The Valentine’s Day Listening Dilemma

By Dr. Molly Stoltz

Dr. Molly Stoltz

Does this scenario sound familiar?

 Sweetheart: “Hey Honey, what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?”

 Honey: “I don’t care, Sweetheart. Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”

 Sweetheart: “Do you not want to do something for Valentine’s Day?”

 Honey: “That’s not what I said! Weren’t you listening to me? I said whatever you want to do is okay.”

 Is this Valentine’s Day date (and perhaps this couple) doomed to disaster? What’s going on here? Was Sweetheart listening to Honey? Was Honey listening to Sweetheart? Why does it matter? Perhaps the issue is the listening style each has.

The Listening Style Profile (LSP) – an assessment developed by well-known listening scholars and long-time International Listening Association members Kittie Watson, Larry Barker and James Weaver – identifies four listening styles: Content, Action, People, and Time.

 Content-oriented listeners “reflect a style for receiving complex and challenging information.”

When communicating with a content-oriented listener:

  • Give the person as much information as possible.
  • Be as concrete and specific with your words as possible.
  • Give the person a chance to ask questions to check his/her understanding.

Sweetheart could have given Honey a specific idea rather than an open-ended question.

Honey could have asked Sweetheart for a specific idea about what to do.

Action-oriented listeners “appear to be particularly impatient with a and easily frustrated when listening to a disorganized presentation.”

When communicating with an action-oriented listener:

  • Outline your expectations about what you what the other person to do in the situation in a brief and organized way. Do not ramble.
  • Do not give information that does not apply directly to the issue at hand.
  • Be prepared for quick feedback and questions.

Sweetheart could have outlined a specific plan and let Honey respond to it.

Honey could have suggested they each come up with a plan and discuss them later.

People-oriented listeners “are viewed as trying to find areas of common interest with others and responsive to the emotions of others.”

When communicating with a people-oriented listener:

  • Ask how the person is doing before launching into any prepared message or speech and anticipate an honest and perhaps emotional response.
  • Pay extra attention to the person’s body language as well as what yours are saying.
  • Be prepared to tell the other person something about yourself after they share with you and make yourself available for further communication with this person.

Sweetheart could have asked about Honey’s feelings about Valentine’s Day and made sure Honey actually wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day before asking such a loaded opening question.

Honey could have given more explanation for such an apathetic response.

Time-orientated listeners “demonstrate a style of for brief or hurried interactions with others.”

When communicating with a time-oriented listener:

  • Ask the person if this is a good time for the conversation before you start.
  • Set a time limit for the discussion.
  • Get to the point of your conversation as quickly as possible.

Sweetheart could have asked if Honey had time to talk before starting the discussion.

Honey could have asked to talk about Valentine’s Day later.

Taking each person’s listening style into consideration can help improve communication in a relationship. The scenario above clearly shows Sweetheart assuming to know what Honey was thinking and feeling instead of asking, and Honey accusing Sweetheart of not listening instead of taking some responsibility for the message Sweetheart received. If that’s the case, then the communication in this relationship (and perhaps the relationship itself) was a disaster long before Valentine’s Day.


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