Career Counselling and Guidance

7 Types of Listening that can change your life

Shreya Matta

Shreya Matta

January 02, 2023

Listening is a key component of effective communication skills. Regardless of the type, listening is key to understanding what other people are really trying to say. Without listening, it’s easy to get something wrong and make assumptions. On the other hand, when we actively listen, we can fully communicate with someone else. 

Listening is the most important part of communication. That’s because it allows us to come up with a substantial and meaningful response. We can pick up on subtleties we wouldn’t have otherwise, especially with body language. If something isn’t clear, we can ask clarifying questions. This is something we might not have done without active listening. At work, communication is an important soft skill. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 80% of companies say that soft skills are increasingly important to their success.

Why to improve listening skills?

Listening is also important for productive collaboration. It is the third most important soft skill companies need. Imagine trying to collaborate if we can’t actively listen to our colleagues. Information gets lost, and misunderstandings occur.

The same can happen if everyone on the team uses different levels of listening. Some people will be more engaged than others. Not everyone will get the same understanding of the same conversation. We can avoid this if everyone actively listens to each other. Plus, when we actively listen, our colleagues and our superiors will notice that we come up with meaningful responses. 

Listening is also crucial if we want to learn effectively. Without attentive listening, it can be easy to miss small details that make a difference in our learning. There are several types of listening we can develop both at home and at work.

The importance of listening can’t be overstated. 

While learning to communicate what we want to say is important, knowing how to listen using different types of listening skills is just as crucial for communication. Not only can it help us process the information on different levels, but it can also help us build relationships with others. That’s because listening goes deeper than just hearing. It’s also much more than listening to the words someone else is saying. While this is one type of listening, it isn’t the only one that matters.

Let’s discuss the various types of listening and why listening is important for helping you advance your career and life.

5 Practical Tips to Improve your English Listening Skills

7 Types of Listening skills

  • Informational listening.
  • Discriminative listening.
  • Biased listening.
  • Sympathetic listening.
  • Comprehensive listening.
  • Empathetic or therapeutic listening.
  • Critical listening.

Let’s explore seven of these types of listening, why they matter, and what they can look like:

1. Informational listening

When we want to learn something, we’ll use informational listening to understand and retain information. It usually takes a high level of concentration to perform this type of listening. That’s because we need to be highly engaged to understand a new concept.

We also need to apply critical thinking to what we are learning. This is so we can understand what we’re learning within the context of relevant information. You can use informational listening when you want to learn something new. If you want to become a good listener, you should develop informational listening skills and maintain a high level of this skill in everyday life.

You usually need a high level of concentration to perform this skill and this applies when you want to understand a new concept or a new idea. This skill is best used in coaching, or when you listen to an educational ebook. It is also used in work training or when you want to expand your knowledge in some area of your interest at home or work.

Some examples of informational listening include:

  • Work training
  • Self-paced learning at home or at work
  • Listening to an educational e book
  • Coaching

When we know how to use informational listening, we empower ourselves to become better learners. By actively learning and improving ourselves, we can become a more valuable asset in our place of work.

We can also feel more fulfilled when we pursue our passions and learn something new at home.

2. Discriminative listening

Discriminative listening is the first listening type that we’re born with. Everyone innately has discriminative listening skills. We can further develop this skill, but it is an essential method to make a difference in someone’s voice or mood when they are speaking.

A baby is born with this skill, and a baby can respond to your words with a smile if you talk to them with a soft and loving voice. At the same time, you can use this skill even if you do not understand the words, and this is possible if you hear someone’s tone of voice and the overall intention of the talk.

Discriminative listening is how babies understand the intention of a phrase before they can understand words. If someone speaks to them in a happy and amused tone of voice, they’ll smile and laugh back. They can also tell who is talking because they recognize different voices.

Discriminative Listening Skills for Babies

But discriminative listening isn’t just for babies. If we’re listening to a conversation happening in a foreign language, we’ll likely automatically use our discriminative listening skills. These will allow us to analyze tone and inflection to get an idea of what is going on.

We use this type of listening before we even know how to understand words. Instead of relying on words, discriminative listening uses a tone of voice, verbal cues, and other changes in sound.

We can also use nonverbal cues to listen and analyze. For instance, someone’s facial expressions, body language, and other mannerisms can tell us a lot about the meaning of someone’s message. We shouldn’t discount discriminative listening, even if we understand someone’s language.

This listening style is key to understanding the subtle cues in a conversation. Using this listening skill can help one read between the lines and hear what remains unspoken.

3. Biased listening 

Biased listening is also known as selective listening. Someone who uses biased listening will only listen for information that they specifically want to hear. This type of listening process can lead to a distortion of facts. That’s because the person listening isn’t fully in tune with what the speaker wishes to communicate.

Biased listening is also known as selective listening. In this kind of listening, you hear only the things that you want to hear. This type of listening leads to misunderstanding and the facts are not well understood if you use biased listening.

If a colleague gives you work to do and explains to you what should be done, you may overlook some information and hear only what satisfies your intentions. In this kind of situation, you can hear only the information that is not important for the project. For these reasons, you should avoid biased listening at work.

Here’s an example: 

Let’s say our superior is briefing us on a new project. We’re waiting to hear about the details of this assignment because we’ve been excited for a long time about it.

Because we’re so focused on the details of the assignment, we don’t fully hear everything our superior says. As a result, we hear our superior explain how we’ll be judged on this project, but we don’t fully process it.

Because we don’t have this information, we may not perform as well as we could if we had understood all the details.

4. Sympathetic listening

Sympathetic listening is driven by emotion. Instead of focusing on the message spoken through words, the listener focuses on the feelings and emotions of the speaker. This is done to process these feelings and emotions.

By using sympathetic listening, we can provide the support the speaker needs. We can understand how they’re really feeling, not what they say they are feeling.

The speaker will feel heard and validated when we take the time to pay attention in this way. Sympathetic listening is crucial if we want to build a deeper relationship with someone in our life.

If you want to build real and strong relationships with people, you need to use sympathetic listening skills. This type of listening is driven by emotions. While the speaker speaks about something, you can follow their emotions and intentions at the same time. You can imagine how they feel and you can see their perspective from the emotional side.

For example, let’s say we run into a work colleague at the grocery store. They seem upset, so we decide to listen to what they have to say. We also use sympathetic listening to feel how they are feeling. In doing this, we notice how frustrated they are about the lack of recognition they are getting at work. As a result, we can offer our support and sympathize with their situation.

5. Comprehensive listening

Unlike discriminative listening, comprehensive listening requires language skills. This type of listening is usually developed in early childhood. People use comprehensive listening to understand what someone is saying using words.

Several other types of listening build on comprehensive listening. For example, we need to use comprehensive listening to use informational listening and learn something new. At work and in our life, we’ll likely use a combination of comprehensive and discriminative listening to understand the messages people are giving us.

If you compare discriminative listening where you do not have to know the meaning of the words, with comprehensive listening, you need to understand the words that you are listening to. For example, if your boss wants to give you feedback or convey a message, you need to know the meaning of the words to understand the message.

For example, let’s say our colleague briefs us on a project. We’ll need to use comprehensive listening to analyze the words and understand the message. We’ll also use comprehensive listening when we receive feedback

6. Empathetic or Therapeutic listening

Empathetic listening is useful to help us see from other people’s perspectives.

Using this type of listening, we can try to understand someone else’s point of view as they’re speaking. We can also try to imagine ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Instead of just focusing on their message, we can use empathetic listening to relate to someone else’s experiences as if they were our own.

This is different from sympathetic listening. With sympathetic listening, we try to understand someone’s feelings to provide support. But we don’t necessarily try to imagine what it’d feel like to be in their position.

Empathetic listening is putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. If you use empathetic listening, you can fully understand the position of the speaker and you can see the world from their perspective. This kind of listening skill is very important at work and at home. You can better understand the information when you put yourself in the position of the speaker.

Here’s an example: 

Let’s say our superior just announced that this week’s company outing is canceled due to budget cuts. By using empathetic listening, we can tell how much pressure our superior is feeling. We can imagine ourselves having to break the bad news.  There is pressure from higher-ups to respect the budget. In addition,  there’s also pressure from the employees. Instead of getting upset, we understand why our superior made this decision. That’s because we can imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes at this moment.

7. Critical listening 

If we need to analyze complex information, we’ll need to use critical listening. Using critical thinking while listening goes deeper than comprehensive listening. Instead of taking the information at face value, we can use critical listening to evaluate what’s being said.

Critical listening is crucial when problem-solving at work. Critical listening goes deeper than comprehensive listening. In critical listening, you need to see the larger picture and you need to solve the problem from many angles. For example, if you need to resolve an issue at your work, you will need to see all the sides of the problem. If there is an angry customer, you will need critical listening to offer the right solution. 

Critical Listening Example

For example, we’d use this type of listening when trying to choose how to handle an unusual and complex client request. We need to use this skill to analyze solutions offered by other people and decide if we agree or not. 

To do this, we don’t just need to hear their words. We also need to look at the bigger picture and compare everything we know. We should learn all types of listening to improve our life and our work 

One type of listening isn’t better than the other. Instead, these seven types of listening work together to help us better understand the messages we receive. By being good listeners, we can become better communicators, avoid misunderstandings, and learn new information more easily.

6 Common Types of Question [IELTS Listening]

If we’re struggling to become active listeners, we’re not alone. 

In conclusion, there are 7 types of listening that can change your life for the better. Listening attentively to others and yourself, understanding what is being said, discerning underlying messages, and actively responding accordingly can all contribute to improved relationships and greater self-awareness. Focusing on what you hear instead of what you want to say, as well as asking questions and providing feedback, can also help foster meaningful connections with those around you. In 2023, it is very important to have great listening skills to succeed in  personal and professional life.

Have any questions, how to improve your listening skills? Contact us and we can guide you.

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