Listening Approaches, and Listening For Safety
How many different listening styles do you have in your team? There are 5 common approaches in listening styles. Do you recognize members of your team here?
There are 5 approaches in the listening model:
The mark of a good educator and trainer is someone who can format, and re-format, any content to reach each listener. Using these 5 approaches depends on the environment in which you are involved. The selection of the approach also involves the 3 environmental factors of focus, motivation, and behavioral indicators. Those who choose to be better communicators will combine the approach with the environmental factor, and create a successful listening style.
The APPRECIATIVE approach is used when the listener wants to be entertained and feel good about themselves. Details of the conversation or presentation have little relevance to the listener.
The listener who continually uses this approach might find more miscommunications because he or she lacks attention to details. This approach is proper to use when the focus is laid back and relaxed and the motivation to listen is for entertainment, inspiration, or enjoyment. Behavior indicators of this approach are:
- paying attention to the style of the presentation then the actual content
- responding to the color, sound, or language
- and appearing to be relaxed.
This approach is a way to relieve stress but not a way to listen during a safety meeting or job briefing.
The EMPATHIC listener is one who wants to reassure the speaker that they understand the message being communications. Listeners who use this approach tend to give the feeling that they really do care. What they will listen for are emotions in the message. If technical data is being given, the empathic listener will tend to miss much of the message.
Focus of the empathic listener is to support the speaker as they talk through concerns. If there are no concerns and only factual information is given, the listener will become disinterested in the topic. This listening approach is motivated by providing an opportunity for the speaker to share thoughts and feelings. They tend to accept the message without judgment so that they can learn from the speaker's experiences. Empathic listeners will ask open-ended questions to keep the message moving, allowing the speaker to share without fear. Psychologists use this approach with their patients in sessions to help draw out information that otherwise might not become known.
This is a good approach during training and safety meetings unless the information is of a technical nature. If a test follows, there is another approach that works best: the comprehensive approach.
People who exhibit the COMPREHENSIVE approach to listening want to understand what is being said. They do this by carefully organizing the information and tying it into what they already know. If a speaker seems disorganized, the comprehensive listener will organize the information in their mind so they can understand the topic.
The comprehensive listener focuses on the topic by organizing the information being presented so that it makes sense to them. They are motivated by relating the topic to their own experiences. They also seek to understand the main idea and how it is supported by the speaker's message. Behavioral indicators of this listening approach are elaborating on what has been said and summarizing the message. The comprehensive listener will often replay the message in his or her own words.
During refresher training and job briefings, the comprehensive approach works well.
Another style of listening is the discerning approach.
Individuals who use a DISCERNING approach to listening are usually note takers. The details of a subject are of great interest to this listener. In addition to paying attention to the details of the subject, this listener watches for distractions and frequently will disconnect from conversation if they are unable to concentrate on the subject.
Discerning listeners focus on getting all the information they can. They are motivated to determine the main message, decide what is important, and make sure nothing is misused. Asking questions to clarify is one of the primary behavioral indicators. This type of listener often wants to ensure that he or she has accurately recorded information and often asks the speaker to repeat the information.
When working in a high-risk environment, the discerning approach is the most effective way to listen. Writing down the information helps the brain "lock the information in" and causes us to not miss a potential hazard. Additionally, the listener may be required to "read-back" the information to confirm the details.
Looking for the facts to back up what the speaker says is a tendency of the EVALUATIVE listener. If the information is not backed up by verifiable facts, this listener will discount the speaker as a non-expert.
An evaluative listener might have a mental argument with the speaker and not respond to the information until the content is verified. If this listener doesn't like what the speaker is saying, he or she will mentally "check out" and may even physically leave the conversation.
The evaluative listener's focus is to make a decision based on the information provided. This type of listener is motivated to judge the information by personal beliefs and the speaker's motives. Behavioral indicators of the evaluative listener may include the tendency to actively agree or disagree with the speaker as well as the inclination to give advice to the speaker.
This listening style can be useful when conducting "best safety practice" reviews. Questioning why a process or procedure is done can be helpful. However, be careful of overusing this style because others may feel uncomfortable. They may feel that you are challenging them unnecessarily.
Know your own listening style and view it as strength, but understand that overusing it can make it a weakness no matter what approach you use.
Each individual has developed their own approach to listening as a result of their behavioral style, personality, and needs. Unless the individual decides to become a better communicator, it is unlikely that he or she will improve.
LISTENING FOR SAFETY
Remember, listening is a learned skill. We all have a natural listening approach but it is important to recognize when to use other approaches to listening. During a safety briefing, it is important to be a DISCERNING listener.
Safety is about information. Information must be communicated in training briefings and other meetings to increase safety awareness. In the past we have taught managers, supervisors, and company safety professionals how to communicate safety in entertaining, engaging, and informative ways. But to get maximum communications effectiveness, we all need to be better listeners.
Listening for safety is important to everyone's safety. In many industries there are tasks that are complicated and involve several people. When the task is complicated, the safe work practice likely involves feedback. Feedback happens when instructions are repeated to confirm understanding. Some tasks require specific, word-for-word feedback because of the dire consequences of an error.
Improved listening skills can decrease the amount of mistakes on jobs. Mistakes can cause injuries, fatalities, and loss of production, In the chemical industry, it is important to get simple instructions correct such as adding water to a solution or adding solution to the water. In the utility industry, it is important to know if the line is energized or not. The important of the details is made evident in the consequences of not getting the correct information. Consider the industry you work in. What are the consequences of not using the most effective listening approach?
© 2011, Potter and Associates International, Inc. This article is an excerpt from the book Listening for Safety's Sake by Carl Potter, CSP. Carl Potter, CSP, CMC and Deb Potter, PhD, CMC work with organizations that want to create an environment where nobody gets hurt. As advocates of a zero-injury workplace, they are speakers, authors, and consultants to industry. As a general aviation pilot, Carl enjoys infusing aviation safety principles into his workplace programs. For information about bringing Carl and Deb to your company or your next conference, contact them at Potter and Associates International, Inc., 800.259.6209 or www.carlpotter.com.
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