You know that the people on your teams learn differently — but did you know they listen differently, too?

Listening is as distinctive as our personality, and a new area of brain science research tells us that listening is a key learning style. We now know that individuals listen for — or prefer — certain kinds of information and miss or ignore other information. This new awareness of what is filtered in or out relates directly to learning and has implications both for onboarding new hires and for team development.

In the work environment, much learning happens through conversation and collaboration among team members, colleagues and/or mentors. The new development around listening intelligence explains why 10 employees can leave a new hire training experience with 10 different impressions of what the facilitator covered.

Ever wonder why after certain team meetings, critical next steps are taken and projects move quickly and efficiently, while after other meetings, little to no movement is made on the project? It’s because individuals on a team habitually listen for what they consider important, accessing what they hear through their own personal filters.

If someone were to poll the participants of each of these meeting scenarios on what information they heard, there would likely be significant variations in the answers. This variance occurs because while listening, each of us hears the same words but focuses on and then recalls slightly different or even very different elements. And, to add even more individuality, we each process it in our own unique way.

Hearing happens in our ears, but listening happens in our brains, and research shows us that no two brains are alike. In fact, people often hear what they are “listening for”; then, they change what they’ve heard depending on what they know about and how they feel about the information shared. They even subconsciously change it to fit their own interpretations and interests, which is why it is so widely said that we misunderstand, misinterpret or change most of what we hear.

On the flip side, when you truly listen, what you hear can change you. You might change your perspective, your position or your mind, because the information you receive is not altered by your filters or biases — both of which can be deterrents in our listening and our learning.

The encouraging news is that recent research has identified four primary types of listening that categorize which information is relevant to each listener and which each listener might overlook or dismiss. Further, recent neuroscience proves that listening skills can be developed.

These advancements in how individuals — and, more importantly, teams — communicate and learn has significant relevance in how we onboard and develop employees. When we understand the listening style or preferences of an individual, we can adapt and accelerate his or her learning and development (L&D) path. This opportunity to improve listening skills — and, by extension, enhance learning — extends beyond your new hires to teams across your entire organization.

What do we know about listening preferences? We know that there are four categories of listening, that everyone uses all of the four to some degree and that they use them in a way that is unique to them. You’ll have diverse listening styles on every type of team within your organization — your sales teams, your operations teams, your human resources (HR) teams and your leadership teams — which means that every team’s listening habits impact learning, collaboration, innovation, and the effective use of time and resources.

As you’ll learn, this research has moved far beyond active listening. So, what are the four categories of listening intelligence?

Connective Listening

People with this listening preference focus on the effect that information has on others and filter it their interest in other people, groups and audiences. Their listening is oriented toward feelings, and they can miss important details because of their focus on tone of voice, body language and other relational cues.

Reflective Listening

People with this listening preference focus on the effect that information will have on themselves and filter what they hear through their own interests and purpose.

Analytical Listening

People with this listening preference focus on facts, data and information that is proven and accurate to determine the right course of action. Listeners who are highly analytical may miss or overlook feelings and other subtle cues of the other people.

Conceptual Listening

People with this listening preference focus on the big picture and, often, abstract ideas. They love to brainstorm, unhindered by structure or framework, but may miss important details along the way.

With this framework in mind, it becomes evident that listening styles or preferences play a significant role in someone’s ability to learn a new skill, a new approach or a new behavior. They can also significantly affect an individual’s success in a role and even his or her long-term career path.

Imagine if, as part of the onboarding process at your company, it was mandatory for all new hires to take a quick listening assessment to determine their listening preferences? Imagine that not only did the assessor share the results with the team involved in onboarding these new hires (i.e., the trainers, mentors, leaders, managers and support team), but the team members responsible for onboarding also shared their own listening profiles with the new employees. Sharing how the extended team naturally listens accelerates the learning of the new team members and optimizes communication across the organization.

We have the opportunity when hiring new employees to maximize their learning by changing our natural communication style to consider their (and our) listening styles. By making this adjustment, we can significantly improve the onboarding process for our new talent.

With a focus on listening skills training across the organization, it’s possible to transform learning effectiveness and, as importantly, develop healthier cultures. As author Mary Mayesky once said, “‘Learning to listen’ is a prerequisite of ‘listening to learn.’”

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