Who has the bigger listening deficit – men or women?

Shine Consulting just published an interesting blog all about how leaders can improve their listening skills. In particular they said that 1 in 4 leaders have a ‘listening deficit’ according to (unattributed) research on 360 feedbacks.

Well, we live and breathe 360 degree feedback, and recently published a comprehensive piece of research looking at leadership, in particular at how men and women differ as leaders and managers. So we thought we’d have a closer look at the question of listening…

Listening is about more than just listening.

Our standard leadership 360 feedback model Inspiring Leader includes one question directly about listening:

“Demonstrates effective listening”

Our research found that this question falls within a cluster of behaviours that we call Respect & Empathy. This is important, because although listening is a skill that you can improve with effort and attention, it demonstrates that it’s part of a broader competency all around your ability to genuinely connect with others. Here is the full set of behaviours that are closely linked to listening:

Behaviours linked with “Demonstrates effective listening”
Causes Consequences
Shows respect for others

Can see both sides of an argument

Shows care and empathy for others

Is tolerant of others

Treats everyone fairly

Works well with other people

Develops positive relationships with colleagues

Notices how others are feeling


You would be very unusual if you could get better at listening without also improving other linked behaviours such as empathising with others, showing respect for your co-workers, and treating people fairly. Fundamentally the way people close that listening deficit gap is by genuinely caring about other people and what they’re thinking – good listening is not just a set of skills, it’s a whole outlook. And the net result will be positive relationships with your colleagues and effective work.

Mind the gender gap

There’s one other perspective we looked at: Gender differences. From our previous research we know that Respect & Empathy is an area where women consistently score higher than men. And we have found that this is just as true for Effective Listening itself. This should be no surprise if you understand that effective listening is simply one aspect of relating to and empathising with others. This is shown most clearly by how often people are rated as excellent (rated 5 on our 5-point scale):

Listening graph

On average, men are not as good at listening as women – there are significantly more women who are excellent at this than men, and this pattern is exactly mirrored in ‘poor’ ratings too, where more men than women are rated as bad at listening. And this is probably because men are generally not as empathetic and focused on relationships. That’s just how they are.

Interestingly, women don’t actually recognise that in themselves – on average women are less likely to consider themselves as excellent at listening than men are.

Of course there are lots of men who are great listeners, and lots of women who are terrible listeners. But on average women are better listeners than men. So if you want to learn to be a better listener, pay attention to what your female colleagues are doing right, and tell them what a good listener they are too because they might not realise it!

Take a look at our gender differences whitepaper – The differences between men and women as leaders

Mark Ainsworth

2 thoughts on “Who has the bigger listening deficit – men or women?

  1. Your results are not unexpected (remember Men are from Mars/Women from Venus), but a further analysis by job grouping or levels would be interesting. The use of continued stereotyping of any group has more negative than positive effect, and with the growth of gender identity, how can this fit into future analysis of behavior patterns?

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