• Client Talk

Listening styles - what's yours?

When clients talk, we should listen. What clients say should be central to our strategy and the way we provide our services. The insight that we can get from asking questions - rather than acting on assumptions - is fundamental to good marketing.


We spend more time listening than we do on any other activity. However, when I speak to markeeters – and clients – the biggest common frustration is that people don’t listen well enough.

Have you ever come up with a product or service that you thought the client wanted, only to find out that it didn’t quite hit the mark, or worse, was not needed at all? How many times do you think someone has heard you, only to find out later that what they thought they heard wasn’t what was intended at all?


The benefits that result from listening to our clients and our colleagues are undisputed. So, why then, do we assume people know how to listen? Indeed, why do we assume everyone listens in the same way?


Mindful listening

Listening as an activity is second nature. We cease to notice that we are doing it and we rarely think about it.


I am a big believer in mindfulness. Mindfulness might be explained to someone who stumbles across it for the first time as “a heightened state of awareness”. I don’t want to talk here about the specifics of mindful listening, where we are fully present when listening to someone. Rather, I want to focus on how we can be mindful of the way we listen. Increasing our self-awareness.

If we are more aware of how we listen, we can be better placed to flex our style depending on the situation we find ourselves in. As a result, we can all become more mindful listeners.


Listening styles

Watson, Barker and Weaver (1995) sought to identify how individuals listen. They created a listening style profile which sought to assess four different listening preferences. These preferences can be remembered with the acronym PACT.


The preferences set out the default way we listen.


People-oriented: The person receiving the information seeks to understand the emotion and feelings of the speaker. They are empathetic and look to both the verbal and non-verbal signals. This style tends to be preferred by counsellors or coaches.


Action-oriented: The focus of the person receiving the information is the task at hand. They are keen to get to the bottom line. This style tends to be the style preferred by lawyers and financial advisers.


Content- oriented: The person receiving the information focuses on the details. They are good at looking for inconsistencies. This style tends to be found in technicians and scientists.


Time – oriented: This focus here is how long the task of listening will take. Listeners will often start with sentences such as “we have 5 minutes to discuss….”. This style is the one that least people identify with.


Pros and cons of each style

There are pros and cons to each of the listening styles.


The person-oriented listener is better at reading non-verbal signals and great at nurturing relationships. However, they might be seen as intrusive and can be over-empathetic.


The action-oriented listener is great at getting to the heart of the matter and looking for inconsistencies. On the other hand, they often second-guess and minimise relational issues and concerns.


The content-oriented listener also downplays relational issues. Advantages to this style are that they welcome challenging information and look at all sides of an issue. However, they can become too detail-oriented and can intimidate in their questioning.


The time-oriented listener is great for setting guidelines for meetings – there will be no running over here! Conversations are focused. However, they can rush speakers and interrupt. Relationships are less likely to be nurtured.


How apply to client listening?

In reading about the different styles, you might identify more with one than another. You might find that you identify with more than one style. You might recognise people that you work with or family members.


Having a heightened awareness to the way we listen – and being mindful of it – can lead to deeper listening.


We can think about how our style might mean that we overlook some of the data that we are receiving when we talk to clients. We can also think about how the client is responding to the way we listen and flex our style accordingly.


Everyone in your organisation will listen. They might listen in a formal “client listening” exercise – or informally in conversations with clients. You might be a professional services marketeer listening second-hand to conversations clients have had with professionals. In the outputs you are seeing can you identify how the professional was listening?





Having an increased awareness of how we listen, leads to deeper listening. If we listen more deeply, the way we remember and use information is heightened. This benefits both the listener and the speaker – but ultimately what benefits most is the relationship.

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