Belbin and Listening Styles

Listening is key to effective communication.

In teams, failing to listen to one another is a common cause of conflict and other difficulties. 

Team and group settings place different demands on the listener, because we are not responding directly to the speaker, as we would do in interpersonal situations.

In order to listen effectively, people must select and process the information they receive. This involves filtering out other stimuli and distractions.

Teams cannot achieve high performance unless all members actively listen to one another.

It helps to understand different listening styles – our preferred ways of making sense of the messages we hear.

Researchers have identified four distinct listening styles – people-oriented, action-oriented, content-oriented and time-oriented.

Once we are aware of these different styles, we can begin to identify which messages might draw our attention, as well as devising strategies for listening in ways which do not come as naturally to us.

Here are four different types of listener and how they tend to receive and interpret information.

Aligning listening styles and Belbin Team Roles isn’t an exact science, but we’ve provided some ideas and pointers below.

People-Oriented Listeners

People-oriented listeners seek to establish and develop a relationship with the speaker. 
They focus on the stories others tell, seek out areas of common ground and work to create a comfortable and open environment for communication in order to build rapport.

They pay close attention to nonverbal cues. They are comfortable listening to others’ emotions and are empathetic, supportive and understanding.

People-oriented leaders who demonstrate sensitivity tend to engender more satisfaction amongst those they lead.

The Belbin Team Role connection…

Those with strong social roles (Co-ordinator, Resource Investigator and Teamworker) may well be people-focused listeners, listening with a view to building relationships.

Teamworkers in particular are empathetic and supportive, whilst Resource Investigators look to build rapport. Co-ordinators are keen to draw out diverse perspectives and promote consensus.

Action-Oriented Listeners

Action-oriented listeners prefer information that is succinct, well-organised and free from errors.

They are primarily concerned with the practical implications and outcomes of the speaker’s message. They are looking for tasks, solutions or practical steps they can take. 

Whilst people-oriented listeners like to hear long stories about others, action-oriented listeners want to get to the point, so that they can translate information into action.

They are likely to ask questions related to the implementation, timelines and resources needed to move forward.

The Belbin Team Role connection…

Those with Implementer strengths may favour action-oriented listening. Implementers are pragmatic and organised, focusing on turning ideas into action. As a result, they may struggle with theoretical discussions that do not have a practical grounding.

There may also be a smattering of other action roles here too – ensuring information is error-free is a Completer tendency, whilst brevity and attention to the timeline are Shaper proclivities.

Content-Oriented Listeners

Content-oriented listeners like information-rich content: they seek accuracy, depth and detail in a speaker’s message, and pay close attention to the content being communicated.

They are interested in expanding their knowledge and understanding of the topic at hand, so may take notes, ask for clarification, or seek additional information to gain a greater understanding of the subject in question.

If the message doesn’t include enough supporting evidence or specific details, they are less likely to listen effectively or accept the message.

The Belbin Team Role connection…

Those with high Monitor Evaluator, Completer Finisher and Specialist strengths may be inclined towards this listening style, for different reasons.

Those with Specialist strengths love learning and seek to deepen their understanding of their subject of expertise. They are likely to enjoy communicating with others who specialise in their area, and to impart their knowledge to help the team.

Monitor Evaluators attend to the macro and Completer Finisher to the micro. Both seek accuracy: Monitor Evaluators look to understand all variables in order to make an informed and balanced decision, whilst Completer Finishers believe that ‘the devil is in the detail’. Each is likely to hold a presenter to high standards of detail and accuracy when it comes to delivering content!

Time-Oriented Listeners

Time-oriented listeners value concise, to-the-point messages. They are focused on efficiency and are constantly aware of the amount of time they have to listen.

They prefer organised speakers who can convey information within a limited timeframe and are more interested in the salient points than in detailed explanations.

These listeners appreciate efficient and effective use of time during group discussions and tend to keep others focused on the agenda.

The Belbin Team Role connection…

More than any others, high Shapers tend to be the ones with an eye on the clock. Driven and often impatient, they are likely to struggle with meetings which evolve into lengthy discussions, since they are focused on achieving goals and meeting deadlines.

It’s not ‘one-size-fits-all’

It’s important to note that no one listening style is better than another – each has advantages and disadvantages.

Effective listeners are those who are able to adapt their listening style to meet the needs of the speaker and the context of the communication. Awareness of different listening styles can make people more versatile and attentive listeners.

Also, people don’t stick to one particular style – they might exhibit a combination, depending on the situation, personal preference, and the goals of the communication in question.

Likewise, you’ll notice that we placed a couple of the Team Roles in more than one category, and of course, people have several preferred Team Roles.

We couldn’t see a particular fit for Plant behaviours in this model – as is often the case, different frameworks don’t align exactly, but they offer useful lenses for understanding one another.

Diversity is key

Just as behavioural diversity is important in teams, we also need diversity of listening styles.

It’s important to have someone who is listening in order to distil the key points, as well as those who are adept at building rapport and those who can challenge the accuracy of statements.

Whilst we might not require all these styles in tandem, knowing when to bring in each style can help boost team performance.

And as with our Team Roles, if we understand our own listening styles – and the styles of others around us – we can become more effective team members, leaders, salespeople…

In short, it allows for better understanding and collaboration and creates an environment where people can communicate to better effect.

Do you know who’s listening in your team? Do you know how they’re listening? The Belbin reports can help reveal the answers!

Find out more here.

You can find about more about listening styles in book ‘Communicating in Small Groups – Principles and Practices’ by Steven A. Beebe and John T. Masterson.

Credit to DeeDee Smartt Lynch and Belbin UK Team.

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