Eike Mark Rinke
Measuring apophatic and cataphatic listening styles

68th Annual ICA Conference, Prague, 25. bis 28. Mai 2018

Intergroup communication is often subject to power inequalities and bias. It is also often characterized by intergroup competition and conflict. Especially in political contexts, inclusion of marginal groups requires communication across lines of social difference. And in order for such communication to be successful, members of all groups involved need to be listened to. In fact, such practices of “democratic listening” across lines of difference are increasingly seen as vital to the functioning of democracy in both political theory (Dobson, 2014) and communication research (Bassel, 2017). However, the concept of “democratic voice” has traditionally received far more attention in the published literature than the concept of “democratic listening” (see Figure 1). In this study, I offer an approach to studying productive and unproductive forms of listening at the level of individual communicators. I present and draw on the normative conceptualization of listening practices introduced by Andrew Dobson (2014). I then discuss an approach to measuring what Dobson calls apophatic (“good”) and cataphatic (“bad”) listening by drawing on existing literatures in empirical listening research. Finally, I present a new instrument that allows, for the first time, to study apophatic and cataphatic listening styles on an individual level in large-scale general population surveys, providing evidence of its reliability and validity from a two-wave panel study of German students (Study 1) and a representative survey of Latinos following the 2016 U.S. presidential election (Study 2). Dobson conceives of apophatic listening as listening characterized by a listener who puts their own categories into temporary suspension in order to “hear out” a speaking other without disrupting them internally, for example by thinking of counterarguments to what is just being said by them. In this way, apophatic listening is dialogic and necessary to allow for a productive, structured negotiation of political disagreement in communication across lines of difference. In contrast, cataphatic listening is listening that is characterized by a listener who imposes their own preexisting categories onto what is being said by a speaking other, potentially disrupting the transmission of meaning. In this sense, cataphatic listening is monologic and may hamper the emergence of true understanding between interlocutors who do not share the same set of categories, considerations, and interests. While Dobson’s conceptualization provides an important normative vantage point from which to study intergroup communication, we do not yet have any measure at our hands to do so empirically. I therefore draw on the empirical listening studies literature and propose to map Dobson’s normative listening concepts onto four dimensions of listening captured by the Listening Styles Profile-Revised (LSP-R), a revised version of the most widely used self-report listening instrument in the communication discipline introduced by Bodie, Worthington, and Gearhart (2013). Cataphatic listening corresponds to the LSP-R dimensions of “critical listening,” a tendency to search for errors in what others are saying, and “transactional listening,” a tendency of listeners to reduce listening to the transmission and reception of information relevant to solving a problem at hand. Apophatic listening, on the other hand, corresponds to “analytical listening,” in which a listener attempts to understand and process all communicated information before forming an opinion as well as “relational listening,” which is the tendency of a listener to be empathetic and listen out for the emotions of the speaker (see Figure 2). Following this conceptual discussion, I propose an 8-item short form of the Listening Styles Profile-Revised (LSP-R8), which – unlike the original 24-item LSP-R – is brief enough to be implemented in large-scale general population surveys where brevity is paramount. The LSP-R8 short form of the measure captures all four dimensions of individual listening dispositions (critical, transactional, analytical, and relational listening) in an economic fashion. The paper reports results from the first two successful validation studies of an adapted short version of the LSP. In Study 1, the proposed LSP-R8 was validated in a two-wave panel study of German undergraduate students (Nt1 = 176; Nt2 = 165; N t1&2 = 115). In Study 2, the LSP-R8 was implemented in a national online survey of U.S. Latinos (N = 720). Tests of its dimensional structure (factor structure), consistency with the long form of the measure, internal consistency reliability (Cronbach’s Alpha), test-retest stability (four-week interval), and confirmatory factor analyses of the theoretical four-factor measurement model produced strong validity evidence for the LSP-R8, which is about 60% more economic in terms of completion time than the LSP-R. Overall, I conclude that the LSP-R8 is a short-form instrument that for the first time allows to study “good” and “bad” forms of listening across lines of difference from a perspective that is both grounded in normative communication theory and valid in terms of empirical measurement in large-N general population surveys.