The effects of home country, gender, and position on listening behaviors.

Author:Roebuck, Deborah B.


Frequently listening is stated as an important component and a necessary skill for the workplace (Brownell, 1990, 1994; DiSalvo, 1980; Schwartz, 2004; Sypher, Bostrom,& Seibert, 1989; Wacker & Hawkins, 1995). For over 50 years, researchers have been showing listening as a highly desirable workplace skill for both managers and employees (Cooper, 1997; Coopman, 2001, Husband, Cooper, & Monsour, 1988; Nichols & Stevens, 1957; Rogers & Roethlisberger, 1952; Sypher, 1984). Goby and Lewis (2000) stated that listening is rated in the top 10 practices for business effectiveness, but it is a skill that is frequently overlooked and taken for granted. Managers and employees often cite listening as a weakness within employee communication (Lewis & Reinsch, 1988).

In today's workplace, listening is also impacted by the fact that more business is conducted globally, which requires an awareness of listening behaviors of other cultures (Kumbruck & Derboven, 2005).Given that work has become more global and that effective workplace communication between managers and non-managers is needed to meet goals and to improve working relationships, an understanding of the differences in listening behaviors between managers and non-managers who are males and females in different countries is worthy of study.

Workplace listening is important for several reasons. First, listening is linked to the building of knowledge and helps organizations develop their intellectual capital (Schwartz, 2004). Second, listening helps managers develop their competencies to deal with employee issues (Crittenden & Crittenden, 1985). Third, organizations that emphasize the importance of listening have employees who aligned their actions with organizational goals (Walters, 2005). Fourth, Cunningham (1992) has stated that listening is needed for effective business practices. If the listening practices of managers and non-managers who work in various countries can be understood, then effective listening behaviors can be identified, which will lead to an understanding of the role of listening within the workplace. Before exploring workplace listening further, it is necessary to define listening and explain the theory surrounding this competency.

A Definition and Theory of Listening

According to Witkin and Trochim (1997), there is no universal definition of listening. The International Listening Association offered the following definition of listening: "The process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and or nonverbal messages" (Emmert, 1996, p. 2-3). Purdy expanded the above definition by defining listening as "the active and dynamic process of attending, perceiving, interpreting, remembering, and responding to the expressed (verbal and nonverbal) needs, concerns, and information offered by other human beings" (1996, p. 8). Flynn, Valikoski, and Grau (2008, p. 143) argued that "listening involves hearing and cognition and assumes the ability to selectively perceive, interpret, understand, assign meaning, react, remember, and analyze what is heard".

According to Witkin (1990), listening research was conducted for a number of years without any theoretical base, but now approximately 13 theoretical perspectives for listening have been established (Wolvin & Coakley, 1993). However, listening research is still not grounded in theory due to a lack of testable theories.

Listening is performed cognitively and perceived behaviorally. Nevertheless, Witkin (1990) stated listening cognitions and behaviors are not always congruent. Up to and including the year 2002, all listening models and definitions could be traced to linear theorists of attention and memory research or to theorists who grounded their work in the linear paradigm (Janusik, 2002). Janusik (2007) took the first step with her research to validate the conversational listening span, which builds a more integrated listening model including cognitive psychology and communication.

It seems that listening has largely been defined in the academic literature as a construct, one with a single definition and without explicitly theorizing about its nature (Bodie & Fitch-Hauser, 2010, Bodie, 2011; Bostrom, 2011). However, Bodie (2011) argued that listening should be viewed as a theoretical term with the theoretical structure a kind of "social context." In this way, listening is allowed various meanings depending on the practical purpose pursued by an individual or team of scholars. This structure could lay theories of listening, or "what people say or believe about listening (Purdy, 2011 p. 137), or one of various scholarly theories of a particular type or mode of listening. This perspective is helpful as we study listening behaviors of individuals in relationship to organizational position, gender, and national culture. Even though the field of listening has struggled to formulate a legitimate theory, listening is considered one of the most crucial skills for managers and employees in organizations.

Many studies stated how important listening is to the workplace, but in a generalized manner (Buhler, 2001; Crittenden & Crittenden, 1985; Goby & Lewis, 2000; Schwartz, 2004). In addition, listening research has provided little insight into demographic information, such as gender and organizational variables such as position, and how those may influence listening (Cooper, 1997). Orbe and Bruess (2005) have suggested cultural influences on listening may pose a challenge for listeners in the 21st century. Employees may be expected to listen and communicate with a diverse workforce that comes from different cultures that display specific listening behaviors (Bentley, 2000). Working professionals may find themselves listening to an individual from another culture that does not speak with the same semiotic code. Therefore, the next sections will discuss the relevance of listening to organizational position, gender and national culture.

The Relevance of Organizational Position to Listening

Listening behaviors are more frequently reported by senior managers than mid-level managers (Brownell, 1994). Managers have scored higher than non-mangers, on average, on critical listening, which is defined as listening to critically assess a message with the intent to either accept or reject the message based upon what the individual heard and perceived (Welch & Mickelson, 2013). These researchers found that increased listening competency is associated with more managerial responsibility and that the need for listening further increases as the individual gains more experience. Leung (2005), as well as others, suggest empathy and listening skills play a central role in cognitive processes and behaviors needed for management and leadership (George, 2000; Goleman, 1995; Mandell & Pherrani, 2003; Salovey & Mayer, 1990; Sosik & Megerian, 1999).

Listening helps managers not only to understand others, but also increases self-awareness. Since managers need to deal with employee issues, effective listening behaviors can help managers to become successful supervisors (Crittenden & Crittenden, 1985). Managers can create strong organizational cultures that value listening by demonstrating effective listening behaviors themselves (Flynn, Valikoski, & Grau, 2008).

Effective listening brings new ideas forward and allows people to voice their opinions, thoughts and experiences (Bachelet, Kawamura, & Tennenhaus Eisler, 2013). Senecal and Burke (1992) found that listening helped gain coworkers support by providing them with recognition and making them feel that they were valued members of the organization. In addition, listening helped people to obtain job-related knowledge that allowed them to perform their jobs better, to establish rapport with others and to improve interpersonal relations (Floyd, 1985). Listening is a highly desirable workplace skill for both managers and non-managers (Cooper, 1997; Coopman, 2001; Husband, Cooper,& Monsour, 1988; Nichols & Stevens, 1957; Rogers & Roethlisberger, 1952; Sypher, 1984).

In general, organizational position has been shown to influence managers' perceptions of their own listening abilities (Brownell, 1990). In the past, a major congruency issue existed between middle managers' impressions of their own listening skills versus how their employees viewed these middle managers' actual listening skills (Brownell, 1990; 2003). This fact further justifies the need for studying differences between managers and non-managers empirically on the listening variable.

The Relevance of Gender to Listening

According to Collins (2006), men and women listen differently. Men tend to structure their listening in terms of goals, thereby, focusing more on listening to information related to the current task. Women, on the other hand, connect with the emotional message and undertones of a conversation. They tend to be more concerned with the occurrence of the conversation than with the pertinent information discussed. Women often interject with small acknowledgements such as 'yes," "I see" and "mm-hmm" to show the speaker that they are actively listening and processing the information. Men tend to listen silently, interjecting sparsely and usually only asking for clarification. The differences in listening style can cause women to assume that men are not listening while men may think that women "overlisten" (Watson & Barker, 1984).

People associate women with the listening role and thus perceive women to be better listeners (Burke & Collins, 2001; Borisoff& Merrill, 1998, Barker, Pearce,& Johnson, 1992; Borisoff & Hahn, 1992; Brownell, 1990). Rubin (1982) and Pearson, Turner, and Todd-Mancillas (1991) found women are taught a muted form of communication that does not encourage a raised voice or expression of opinion. Therefore, men speak up more than women do; and people perceive women to be better listeners. Heath (2006) believes that women are perceived better listeners because...

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