Listening to the listening professors

This week I am excited for the opportunity to meet with two big names in the listening field, Debra L. Worthington and Margaret Fitch-Hauser. They are communication professors at Auburn University and, among many other papers, are co-authors of a 2012 textbook, Listening: Processes, Functions, and Competency.

0132288540Professor Worthington has studied persuasion and juror decision-making and, more broadly, the effects of different listening styles. One of her papers addresses whether verbal aggression corresponds with any particular listening style. Not surprisingly. verbal aggression is inversely correlated with a people-focused listening style. But it’s not strongly correlated with the other classic listening styles:

  • action listening (tendency to focus on errors and inconsistencies in a message, and how it relates to a task)
  • content listening (tendency to focus on claims and support)
  • time listening (tendency to focus on how much time a communication event takes, and to prefer hurried interactions)

(These listening styles were first identified by listening scholars Kittie Watson, Larry Barker, and James Weaver and have been explored in a variety of papers. How lawyers may use these different listening styles is an interesting topic for future blog posts.)

Professor Fitch-Hauser studies listening fidelity and other measures of listening. Listening fidelity is a useful concept for any professional: when a listener listens to a speaker/source, how similar are their perceptions of the “communication event” they both experienced? Listening fidelity means their perceptions are more congruent. Her work also has touched on listening styles and personality, such as her paper with Stephanie Lee Sargent and James B. Weaver III on “A Listening Styles Profile of the Type A Personality.”

In their textbook, Worthington and Fitch-Hauser survey the listening literature and acknowledge the difficulties of studying listening. It is so difficult to study because it is inherently a “hypothetical construct, something you know exists but you can’t physically see.” Models of listening provide insight into what is really happening in this hypothetical construct. Thus listening models help with identifying where listening success and failure may occur.

The Worthington Fitch-Hauser model of listening is “MATERRS”:

  • Mental stimulus – intentionally attending to a noise or stimulus
  • Awareness – beginning the mental sorting process, which can be adversely impacted by a high cognitive load such as multitasking
  • Translation – processing the message rationally, emotionally, or both
  • Evaluation – using existing frameworks for understanding to connect the message to one’s existing knowledge
  • Recall – storing the message in working memory and possibly long-term memory as well
  • Response – deciding how to respond
  • Staying connected & motivated – building relationships, evaluating and perhaps changing one’s own frameworks for understanding future listening events, maintaining motivation to listen, and challenging one’s own personal biases

The last aspect of the WFH listening model — staying connected and motivated — was particularly interesting to me. It represents listening as not just a one-time event but an overall life competency. That’s just one of many reasons I am excited to meet and learn from Professors Worthington and Fitch-Hauser.




7 thoughts on “Listening to the listening professors

  1. […] The most important components of listening are hidden: being aware of and receiving the information, placing it into context with one’s previous knowledge, evaluating and (perhaps) remembering the information, and responding. These elements of listening are drawn again from Worthington and Fitch-Hauser’s MATERRS model of listening. […]

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