• What Kind of Listener Are You?


    A Swedish proverb says ‘Speaking is silver but listening is gold.’ A good conversationalist is an exceptional listener but how good a listener are you?

    Researchers identify four kinds of listener.

    NON-LISTENERS are only interested in what they have to say. They talk all the time and don’t listen to you.

    MARGINAL LISTENERS use what you have to say as a hook to start talking themselves. They’re not really interested in what you have to say. They are interested in using you as a stimulus to get them talking.

    EVALUATIVE LISTENERS listen to your words and judge what you say in the light of their thoughts and experience. As a Moroccan student said, ‘You hear my words but you don’t hear my feelings.’

    ACTIVE LISTENERS This leads us to the active listener. Active listening means you keep quiet, you focus on the speaker and you focus on their words but also how they feel. You are interested in whether they are happy, sad, regretful or excited and you silently absorb their feelings and empathise with them.

    In fact, we are all kinds of listener, depending on the circumstances but if you can train yourself to become more of an ACTIVE LISTENER, especially in international conversations, you will get better results and build stronger relationships.

    How do you do it? Simple. Shut up and listen. However, it’s not that easy. You want to interrupt. You want to ask questions. You want to smile and nod and maybe go, ‘Uh Huh’.


    One way you can reconcile the demands of active listening with the desire to interrupt is to use F.A.C.E. F.A.C.E. is an acronym. It stands for: -





    How do you do it? Well, they say that President Bill Clinton is one of the greatest active listeners. He really listens to the people he’s with. One person is quoted as saying ‘The moments he’s with you it’s like no-one else is in the room.’ Here’s how he does it.

    FOCUS He focuses on the person he is listening to. He smiles and shows interest.

    ACKNOWLEDGE He nods or says something to show he is following what you are saying.

    CLARIFY He asks questions to help him understand. Questions like, ‘What happened next?’ ‘What did you do then?’ or ‘How did you manage that?’

    EMPATHISE He expresses enthusiasm and sympathy, using phrases like, ‘how awful!’, ‘great!’, ‘Wonderful!.’

    A friend and colleague, Harry Davis, claimed he could have any conversation with anyone in the world. One word would keep people talking. The word? It is ‘Really?’, said with a rising intonation at the end. Here’s an example.

    ‘I’m Barry Tomalin.’


    Yes. I’m from London.


    Yes, I’m a cultural consultant.


    Yes, I work with companies around the world.

    And so on. Use it right and ‘really?’ can open up a world of conversation.

    ACTIVITY – How to teach active listening

    Finally, four steps to teach active listening.

    STEP 1 Explain the four types of listening.

    STEP 2 Get your group to work in pairs. Give one person one minute to talk about any subject they like. The other person must listen in silence.

    STEP 3 Get feedback. How did the speaker feel? They he or she feel listened to? How did the listener feel? Were they frustrated by not being able to interrupt?

    STEP 4 Now reverse the process. The speaker becomes the listener. The former listener speaks for one minute. Alt the end, elicit feedback from speakers and listeners as in STEP 3.

    STEP 5 Teach F.A.C.E.

    STEP 6 Repeat STEPS 2-4, this time encouraging the listener to use F.A.C.E.

    STEP 7 Get feedback from the group on the exercise. How do they feel? What have they learned? What will they do as a result?

    So that’s ACTIVE LISTENING. Oh, and one more thing. Here’s a favourite Clinton quote.

    ‘Being President is a bit like running a cemetery. There’s a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening!’ Enjoy ACTIVE LISTENING.

    ACTIVE LISTENING is featured in the forthcoming KEY BUSINESS SKILLS (Presentations, Meetings, Negotiation and Networking), by Barry Tomalin, published by HARPER COLLINS in December 2012. See NEWS to read the FLYER.


Web feed

Culture Blog

You are viewing the text version of this site.

To view the full version please install the Adobe Flash Player and ensure your web browser has JavaScript enabled.

Need help? check the requirements page.

Get Flash Player