What’s Your Listening Style?

Identify your default listening mode, and what you bring to the conversation

Ximena Vengoechea
7 min readMar 31, 2023

Hi friends,

I’ve been so focused on finalizing the cover and interiors for my second book (cover reveal soon!), that I nearly missed the two year anniversary of Listen Like You Mean It.

So, in honor of this special day, I’m sharing an excerpt from the book on one of my favorite topics: identifying your listening style, or what I call your default listening mode. It’s a topic that comes up frequently with readers, because all of us have a particular listening style, and it affects the way we show up in conversation, what we hear, and how we connect (or fail to!). Read on to learn about your unique listening mode and how to harness it.

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What’s a listening mode?

Each of us has a natural way of stepping into conversation: an instinctive mode we tune in to without thinking. There are many ways to show up in a conversation, but we tend to play one role more often than the rest.

I call this our default listening mode. It is influenced by our unique temperament, how we’ve been socialized, and even cultural expectations. For many of us, chances are it started to take form during childhood, in response to our early relationships and the environment around us, and has been reinforced time and again since then and throughout our lives.

Below are the most common default listening modes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. As you enter in conversation, listen for when these modes are surfacing, and notice whether they are serving you, or whether you need to adapt to something else.

Default listening modes in a nutshell. Illustration by the author.

Common Default Listening Modes

The Explainer

Explainers have an answer for everything, especially when it comes to our feelings (You’re feeling burned out? It must be because of our culture of overworking.). Rational thinking can provide a welcome perspective and help us gain distance from our feelings. Still, Explainers must be careful not to go overboard, since not everyone wants an explanation for their emotions; that type of response can at times feel short-sighted and dismissive.

The Validator

It can feel great to talk to a Validator, especially when you are in need of a pick- me- up (Yeah, it is their fault! They don’t understand you!). These natural cheerleaders are always on our side, but unchecked, Validators can unintentionally inflate your ego, skew your perspective, and even stunt your personal growth.

The Identifier

Identifying happens when a listener likens their experience to the speaker’s and brings a conversation back to them. “I know exactly what you mean.” “I felt the same way when . . .” “It’s like how when I . . .” These responses can help us to feel less alone in our experience. At the same time, not everyone craves affirmation; in these cases, identifying responses can be disconnecting. They show the listener that we aren’t listening at all — we’re thinking about ourselves.

The Problem-Solver

Problem-Solvers have a solution for everything and are the perfect sounding board when you need to make progress or improve an idea. The catch is when a Problem-Solver solves “problems” that don’t exist. You might have simply been thinking aloud, but to a Problem-Solver in overdrive, everything you say is an opportunity to fix, solve, or rectify.

The Nurse

The Nurse puts your needs above theirs. It’s never too late for them to run an errand on your behalf, or too much to tend to you when you’re feeling down. But the more they take care of you, the more your relationship tips out of balance. Not only can all that care feel overwhelming, but it’s also all too easy for a Nurse to focus so much on you that you never get to support them.

The Defuser

Defusers are known to play down tense or uncomfortable situations, often using jokes. When a dose of levity is called for, their humor is helpful. On the other hand, if a Defuser makes light of every situation, especially ones that are difficult for you, it may be hard to feel close to them.

The Mediator

Mediators love to look at things from all angles and assume good intent, and make great company for mitigating conflict. But in an effort to understand everyone’s perspectives, they can sometimes inadvertently make it feel unsafe to share our point of view at all.

The Empath

Empaths have an uncanny way of tuning in to your emotional experience — sometimes even before you do. “I sense you are feeling weighed down lately,” they may say, “Is everything OK?” It can be comforting to be seen by Empaths in this way. To be most effective, Empaths must read cues carefully and ensure there is trust in the relationship; without it, their intuitions about how we feel can unintentionally make us feel exposed.

The Interrupter

Interrupters are always one step ahead of us — or so they think. At their best, Interrupters make spirited conversation partners. At their worst, Interrupters can be tiring — as quickly as they jump in, it can feel like everyone else is shut out.

The Interviewer

Interviewers are known to ask their conversation partner lots of questions. Their genuine curiosity can make us feel valued. Nevertheless, asking too many questions can make conversations feel like interrogations. This approach also shields Interviewers from having to share their own stories, making it difficult to get to know them.

The Daydreamer

Daydreamers are often lost in thought during conversations. Whether due to rich imaginations or anxious minds, their tendency to distract isn’t personal, but it can make us feel less than worthy of their time. “What were you saying again?” quickly becomes a tiring refrain.


How to work with and learn from your mode

Sometimes our default mode is exactly what’s called for in conversation, but sometimes it’s not. Depending on the topic or company, we may need to shift from one listening mode to another in conversation to avoid miscommunication or conflict.

Recognizing these modes in ourselves helps us to better regulate our responses in conversation. It is much easier to catch ourselves slipping into a mode that may not be welcome — and to do something about it — when we know there is a range of other modes we can tap into instead.

Recognizing these modes in others also gives us insight into who they are; if I understand that you are a chronic problem-solver, I know not to take it personally when you give me unsolicited advice on a challenge I am working through, because that is simply your way.

Which mode feels most like you? Which mode do you recognize in the major players in your life, like your partner, boss, or best friend? Which mode do you seek out from others? Drop your thoughts in the comments.

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  • 🫶 New book soon! I’m hard at work on the production phase of my forthcoming book about rest, and it’s so close! Because I am a writer and illustrator, a lot of this time is spent making sure that text and image are in conversation with each other. It’s a dance between what is said and what is seen and how it’s all understood. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you soon about how it’s all coming together.
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Proofing! And growing out my hair, which apparently I do when I’m on book deadline. 😅

  • 🗞️ Newsletter updates! I’ve been thinking about new areas to explore in this newsletter this year, and one of the ideas I’m exploring is interviewing authors about their lives and their work in this newsletter. This would be a chance to get to know the writer behind the cover and their ideas a bit more deeply, in addition to the book recommendations I already include. Love this idea? Hate it? Let me know in the comments!

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Ximena Vengoechea

Writer, UX Researcher, Author of The Life Audit ('24), Rest Easy ('23), Listen Like You Mean It ('21). ximenavengoechea.com/books