Listening seems pretty straightforward, right?
You just open your ears (figuratively speaking) and listen.
But there’s actually many different types of listening.
Personal interactions can vary hugely, from body language to speech to group discussions.
The way that we pay attention to people says a lot about how feel about them, so it’s good to be aware of the signals we’re giving off.
Here are 8 types of listening that you ought to be aware of.
1. Biased Listening
This type of listening does what it says on the tin – we hear things that confirm our preconceived biases, opinions, or expectations.
We hear what we want to hear… what we think we should be hearing.
And we do this subconsciously, without even realizing it.
This is due to a wide variety of factors and often happens in the workplace or personal relationships where stress and emotions are involved.
For example, we think we hear our bosses say something because we’re almost expecting them to say it, be it a deadline or praise.
And there are plenty of things that can influence what we think is being said.
Our initial judgement of a person or situation can really affect how we hear and interpret things.
The way someone looks, their tone of voice, and other factors can impact what we think they’re going to say, and we pre-empt their actual speech with our expectations.
2. Sympathetic Listening
Again, this is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s also a very important form of listening!
Sympathetic listening is our way of showing that we understand what a person is saying and how it is affecting them.
It shows that we care about them.
This kind of listening is common among close friends, partners, and family members.
It links very closely to body language, so you’re likely to see head tilts, sighing, and nodding.
The trouble with this type of listening is that it can be quite easily faked or staged. Since we all know what to expect from people when they’re being sympathetic, it’s easy to replicate this.
3. Empathetic Listening
This is really similar to sympathetic listening, but takes things to a new level.
Rather than looking on as an observer and feeling for the person (be it sadness, anger, or joy!), empathetic listeners essentially experience the feelings for themselves.
This is a sign of a really close friendship or relationship – to feel someone’s pain or happiness is to love them and care deeply for them.
It can be quite intense at times and can really weigh deeply on the listener if they are not careful.
This style of listening is also known as Therapeutic Listening, and for obvious reasons.
By putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we’re better able to help them through their situation.
This allows us to offer a version of therapy where we walk the individual through whatever they are experiencing as if we are experiencing it for ourselves.
That means we can give tailored advice, without making judgments, and offer up suggestions of what we would do.
4. Critical Listening
Critical listening involves just that – being critical about what is being said, taking the important bits and making a judgment as needed.
Essentially, this type of listening is great in the business world – it helps listeners get to the point quickly and keeps things streamlined and efficient.
By using critical listening as a skill, we can make decisions sooner as well as coming up with solutions to problems and analysis of situations much quicker.
‘Critical’ can often have a negative connotation, but in this context, it simply means cutting through what is being said to lift out the most important, relevant parts.
This is a great skill to learn when it comes to business meetings, anything involving finances, and any kind of high-stress situation.
By taking on board the most crucial information from what someone says, we can learn to reach a conclusion much sooner and more easily.
‘Critical’ also means to scrutinize what is being said and take some things with a pinch of salt. It requires us to seek the truth amongst the noise of opinion and exaggeration.
Critical listening is a key part of the critical thinking process.
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5. Informational Listening
This is all about paying attention to the information being conveyed by the speaker.
It’s similar to critical listening in that we retain the parts that are most important, but it differs in that we’re doing so in order to learn rather than to streamline a process.
Informational listening is our way of being educated through speech – we listen to the news or attend classes to learn things; to gain new information and insights.
This type of listening often involves practical or technical content.
Learning through hearing requires attention in ways that other types of listening don’t – it’s more about concentrating on content than offering advice, watching for physical cues, or having a deeper emotional understanding.
People who use this type of listening the most are normally studying on some level (high school student, university students, etc.) or working in a business environment.
If you’re attending a meeting and you’re learning about a new product launch or marketing campaign, you’re likely to be using a combination of informational and critical listening.
Whilst you’re focusing on what you can learn by hearing, you’re likely to be taking physical notes and paying attention to body language, too.
Developing your informational listening skills is a great way to set yourself up if you’re starting a new job, beginning a new academic adventure, or fancy doing some self-development studies around things that really interest you.
6. Appreciative Listening
This may be our favorite listening style…
Sure, we love having deep and meaningful chats, and we’re all for learning something new from the latest nature documentary, but listening to something for pleasure is wonderful.
It might be that certain pieces of music really boost your mood, or that your favorite radio hosts are part of your morning routine that sets you up for a good day.
This type of listening can be done on your own or with others who have a mutual appreciation for whatever it is you enjoy.
This is normally done outside of work hours, with a lot of people enjoying radio dramas on a lazy Sunday afternoon or live music on a Friday night!
7. Selective Listening
This must be something we’ve all been accused of in the past, but it’s not always our fault.
Selective listening essentially means that we only hear what we want to hear and often tune out to other things because we find them irrelevant or boring!
Out of all the types of listening, this is probably the only one that can have negative connotations. It suggests trouble with communicating, empathizing, or paying attention.
If you often find yourself drifting out of conversations, it may be that you’re struggling with selective hearing.
Do your best to really focus on what’s being said, especially in important situations like work meetings, job interviews, and times when those close to you are confiding in you about something personal or upsetting.
8. Rapport Listening
We thought we’d end on a high note with a style of listening that is really positive and lovely.
Rapport listening involves quite a few of the styles we’ve already mentioned, but takes things to a different level.
This type of listening is the one we use when we’re trying to build a relationship.
We really want to engage with what’s being said. To show a keen interest and be ready to respond with something appropriate.
Our responses need to be tailored to whoever is speaking and match the tone of the conversation.
After all, telling jokes is a great way of building a rapport, but not always appropriate when we’re trying to build a rapport in a serious business meeting!
Most of us use this style every day, from the workplace to client lunches to meeting new people on a night out or at a social event.
By showing that we’re interested in what’s being said, we can form a stronger bond with whoever is speaking and start to gain their trust.
This leads to a healthy, happy relationship and mutual respect for everyone involved – always a winner!
These are just some of the styles of listening. After all, it can be pretty tricky to put everything we humans do into neat little boxes!
All forms of listening have a place in our lives, but it’s helpful to know which ones we should be developing and building, and which ones we might need to stop doing so much of.
Now that you know 8 of the main types of listening, you can examine the style of communication you’re most comfortable with and start branching out!