We have been developing our listening habits since we were infants. As a result, most of us find it easier to listen to some people and some kinds of information more than others. Some people appear to be more willing to listen to factual information or statistics while others appear to prefer to listen to personal examples and illustrations. Individuals also differ in their preference of communication channels (telephone or face-to-face), message formats, structures, locations, and events. Rather than adapting listening styles to different audiences and settings, most listeners habitually rely on a comfortable pattern of listening behavior. These differences in the ways that listeners choose to listen are called “listener preferences.” Unknowingly, we make judgments and decisions based on our habits that may affect our communication effectiveness.
In the early 1980’s we began questioning how and why clients, workshop participants, and students listen differently. We noticed that the attention and interest of listeners changed dramatically throughout lectures, workshops, or classes. We also noticed that there were inconsistencies in what seemed to engage listeners. Our curiosity culminated in our development of the first prototype of the Listener Preference Profile in 1984 and the validation of the instrument in 1993. Since then numerous studies have contributed to the repository of research using the Listener Preference tool.
Listening preferences are determined by how, where, when, who, and what types of information we most like to receive from others. The way we choose to receive information includes whether or not we find it easier to listen to others by telephone or face-to-face and how we prefer messages to be organized. Some of us prefer to listen in outline form; others of us like speakers who include interesting stories and examples. Most of us also prefer certain locations for listening. Some of us listen best when in comfortable surroundings, and others listen best in more formal settings. Some of us are morning people, while others are better listeners in the afternoon or evening. We also have likes and dislikes about what types of information to which we most like to listen. While some listeners find it easy to listen to technical data, others may find it too dry or boring.
In addition to empirical research, our profile has been used and field-tested with thousands of participants in listening seminars and presentations around the world. In 1990, ABC’s 20/20 featured the Listener Preference Profile on their segment, “Talking to a Wall.” In our own workshops and training, we use the Listener Preference Profile to help participants:
- Understand the unique advantages and disadvantages of why and how they listen.
- Adapt messages more effectively with their bosses and coworkers,
- Determine the best approach to use with key decision-makers or audience members when selling a product, making an in-house presentation, pitching an idea, or engaging particular age groups.
- Appreciate and value differences in teams and work groups.
Since listener preferences are habitual responses that have been cognitively structured, practiced and reinforced over time, these behaviors have become highly automatic.
Recent research suggests that listening habits can be modified with incentive, knowledge, and practice (Dickson & Patterson, 1981; Smeltzer & Watson, 1984; 1985; Watson & Rhodes, 1980). Fortunately, it is possible to train listeners to listen differently in a variety of communication settings.
USING THE LPP
The Listener Preference Profile (LPP) has been used and field-tested with thousands of participants in Interactive Listening seminars and programs throughout the country. Designed to identify habitual listening responses, the LPP also gets listeners to think about how preference traits might be expressed in actual communication settings. By using the LPP, listeners learn to adapt their preferred behaviors so that they match the speaker’s needs, time constraints and listening setting.