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Stakeholders don’t ‘get’ you? Here’s what to do

Want to enhance your stakeholder relationships? Do your stakeholders have listening preferences that you are not aware of?

Source: Wirestock (Freepik, under licence)

People absorb information differently

Sometimes it is hard to connect with stakeholders. Luckily we can use a simple model to help us think about our stakeholders from another angle. This model may help us build better relationships with stakeholders who may not ‘get us’. This model is the LISTEN model, developed by Professors John Geier and Dorothy Downey ¹.

The LISTEN model makes us think: Does each stakeholder have a preferred way of absorbing information? LISTEN helps Change professionals convey information to individual stakeholders.

Geier and Downey’s LISTEN model suggested six main styles of listening.

Source: (under licence from Vyond)

“Leisure listening” is the listening style of a person focussed on content that interests them. This may include jokes and light hearted anecdotes. They may miss out on “serious” information. This could include negative impacts to them as part of the change you’re proposing.

The next part of the model is “Inclusive listening”. This is the listening style of someone interested in the main points of your content. The inclusive listener appreciates your executive summary! This listening style is useful for cutting through incredible detail. People with this preference get to the point. This style can be a disadvantage when that person needs to absorb significant detail.

The “Stylistic” listening style speaks to someone drawn to speaker appearance and confidence. Speaker aesthetics, authority and perceived conviction may supercede content accuracy or practicality. The speaker should sound like “they mean what they say” to a person with a stylistic listening preference.

“Technical listeners” speaks of people who absorb a large amount of detail when listening to a speaker. They may miss the meaning behind the words yet assimilate facts and figures. Technical listers risk missing out on “reading between the lines”.

“Empathic listeners” may prefer to focus on speaker and audience feelings. They pay attention to and understand the hidden meanings behind someone’s complaints. They understand the root causes behind other’s frustration and unhappiness.

If a non-conforming listener doesn’t agree with you, they may not listen to what you have to say. And they may only pay attention to those people who they consider to be “strong” or hold some authority on the topic at hand.

This one-minute video complements this article with an overview of the LISTEN model.

Source: Allan Owens

The LISTEN model is a prompt for checking yourself, and others. Is your message hitting the mark with certain people? What might be your own listening style? Are you applying any filters when listening to others?

While LISTEN provides an overview of individual listening preferences, how do we use LISTEN for groups?

Here is a tall order for you:

  • Humourous anecdotes (and a little story-telling where you can!)
  • An outline format and key points
  • Specific facts and details
  • Prepare to discuss audience and stakeholder sentiment
  • Convey confidence and expertise while looking sharp

Each of your presentations may need a few dry runs to tick many (or all) of those boxes!

This model — like all models — is far from perfect. But are you struggling with achieving a clear understanding with a particular stakeholder? Can you direct some time and effort to LISTEN, so your message hits the mark?

The LISTEN model isn’t heavily validated by academic research. But as a model for busy change professionals, LISTEN is simple and thought-provoking. Do we prefer to hear messages in a certain way?

As an aside, Public Relations (PR) professionals are experts at tailoring messages to various audiences. They are experts in generating ‘earned media’. They achieve this through creating excitement and delight in potential customers and advocates. Do PR professionals have an intuitive grasp of people’s listening styles? This is likely, and they also adapt their approach to the style and inclination of advocates and influencers. As change professionals, are we investing in our messages? Of course! But is our investment as involved as those in “sister” professions like Public Relations?

Models are thought-provoking and may be useful in the field. The LISTEN model helps you consider how you present ideas in ways tailored for greater influence with your audience. Your time and effort invested in thinking about your audience’s listening preferences is worth it. Your message is likely to resonate with a broader cross-section of your stakeholder community.

How can you use the LISTEN model in your engagements? Can you think of stakeholders that embody one or more of the attitudinal listening styles?

My book — The Change Manager’s Companion — is available now. You can also check out my online course on Change Management.


1. Geier J.G., Downey D.E. Attitudinal listening profile system. In: Aamodt M, ed. Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach. 7th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Performax Systems International; 1980.



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Allan O

Senior organisational change manager. Mental health professional. Author of The Change Manager’s Companion.