Four Types of Listeners

November 29, 2022

by Stephen T. Messenger

Since I took my new job, I’ve packed my schedule with constant engagements that vary widely.

In one 48-hour period, I jumped from meeting to meeting, ranging from strategic planning to war dancing with Native Americans to allotting a large amount of money for construction projects to engaging county town boards to checking the health of deer.

I’ve found that in these varied encounters, I often have the least amount of knowledge of anyone in the room. Listening is the skill I need the most.

Leadership Requires Listening

Leaders know how to listen and filter information. They ask for advice, opinions, and recommendations. They engage through two-way communication. And they truly want to have a dialogue, not a monologue.

If a leader is in the room, no matter their role and the topic, they need to be fully engaged. My college professor once told us, “The best leaders can listen to any conversation about any subject and be able to intelligently ask questions and add to the discussion.” That requires knowing who you’re talking to.

The Four Kinds of Listeners

People listen in four different ways. If you know their listening style, you can communicate more effectively.


The first type of listeners is people-oriented, and they value relationships. You need to invest time getting to know them. If you jump right into tasks, you’ll lose them from the beginning.

I often show up at meetings early just to shake hands and ask about peoples’ weekends. We briefly interact before business because it helps build relationships before we get to business.

We’ve all been in meetings where the boss walks in and the atmosphere of the room suddenly changes… in a bad way. Great leaders mitigate this and their presence changes things for the better.


The second type is action-oriented. These people are trying to stay on a particular topic to accomplish a task. They’re most likely not listening to the story about your dog, and they didn’t show up early to chat.

They want to talk about getting things done and moving onto the next target. I’m one of these people. I listen to identify what steps I’m going to take when I walk out the door.

These types of listeners get down to business, speak broadly, and focus on progress. Tailor conversations on tasks going forward.


Content-oriented people are the third type, and they live in the technical details. They want to listen to all sides of the issue and understand the depth and nuances of the topic.

They’re a great balance to action-oriented listeners as they ask questions to force us all to understand the real issues. These conversations take longer than action-oriented ones because these listeners want to appreciate every facet of the problem.

Spending a little more time in the details and making sure they understand the details will go a long way to communicating.


Finally, time-oriented listeners value efficiency. They won’t waste your time and will stay on task. They’ll come prepared, have goals, and seek to maximize their minutes.

You’ll often see them multi-tasking. The meeting may get a little long for them, and they’re brainstorming another topic quietly or thinking about the next meeting.

The goal with them is to be as efficient as possible and keep them on track. Speak in terms of deadlines and keep them moving.

Bringing Listeners Together

One-on-one, knowing listening styles is very helpful, but when different listeners are in a room together, it becomes more challenging. Often these styles conflict and not everyone is captivated by the same content.

A time-oriented listener wanting to keep the meeting moving will struggle with the content oriented-listener who slows it down asking questions to understand the details of what’s happening.

It’s important to know your audience, and more importantly the goals of the meeting up front. Or else you have multiple styles with different expectations.

How Do You Listen?

Perhaps most importantly, what is your listening style and how do you listen to others who may think differently? Once you identify your style or styles, you can communicate more effectively.

I know I’m a time- and action-oriented listener. I don’t go into details and want to get right to business. Just because that’s how I think, doesn’t mean every conversation I have should be that style.

It’s important to understand the listening style of who I’m talking to and adjust accordingly.  

When someone is talking to us, we must listen well. This means demonstrating real leadership by taking the time to understand how the other person listens.

Lead well!

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