Knowledge of Types of Listening – The Key To Understanding and Being Understood

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Listening, the most neglected part of communication falls into several categories, the knowledge of which will help you choose the best kind of listening to be an effective communicator. This knowledge distinguishes the effective listeners from ineffective ones making one an effective listener.

The degree of attention, the perspective taken into consideration and the objective of listening determine the type of listening one engages in. The various types of listening can classified into two broad types: positive and negative. Positive listening benefits the listener, the speaker and society at large. Positive types of listening include sensitive listening, active listening, evaluative listening, relationship listening and appreciational listening. Negative listening is defective and because it does not serve the purpose of one or more of the parties to communication.

The following exhibit gives various kinds of listening.

Passive Listening

In passive listening, nothing of the speaker's words go into the mind of the listener. The words of the speaker do not activate the thought process of the listener. But the listeners are physically present though mentally absent. The listener may have decided to ignore the speaker due to either preconceived notification or boring introduction of the listener. The responsibility for this negative kind of listening lies with the speaker who may not have aroused the interest of the listeners.

Marginal Listening

Marginal listening, which is also referred as Selective Listening, is a little better than passive listening in that the information of the speaker is tuned to in bits and pieces rather than the whole of it. The listener occasionally raises his head to take some information, probably due to its being pleasant to him or acceptable to his existing views. But, he listener may be missing out on the important part of the speaker's message. This also can be classified under negative kind of listening since the important part of the message is ignored and the benefit of it missed out.

Projective Listening

In this type of listening, the listener takes and absorbs the information in accordance with the listener's own view or perspective which dominates the perspective of the speaker, even if the speaker's view is amalgamated into listener's own. In other words, the browser view of the speaker is either ignored or given less predominant place and limited view of the listener retained. This also is classified as negative kind of listening. It is similar to a jaundiced person looking at the world and believing the surroundings as green. The view is far from being true.

Empathic Listening

Empathic listening, which is also known as 'sensitive listening' is the opposite of projective listening in that only the speaker's view is taken predominately while that of the listener is either completely ignored or given less importance. If a proper balance between two views is stuck, it could be classified as positive. Owing to dominance of only speaker's view, it has to be termed as negative listening and because needs to be improved. Being too empathetic with others may leave the pioneer perspective to winds or lead to listener being exploited. But there are some features of this type of listening. They include building of trust, facilitating release of emotions, reducing tensions, creating positive climate for negotiations etc. ( The listeners must attend, support and empathize with the speaker.

Since empathetic listening build relationships, it can also be called 'relationship listening'.

Prof. Asha Kaul opines that empathetic listening coupled with active would prove to be the ideal listening wherein the objectives of the message are served the best. (Kaul Asha, Business Communication, Prentice Hall of India, New Delhi, 2004, p. 41.)


Practice this for better results

Dick Connor, the mentor of Jeffery P.Davidson, had a nice habit. When the latter used to meet the former for discussion of new articles and key ideas, which used to happen at dining table, the former used to tape-record the discussions.

Dick Connor brave for the first time to Jeffrey the taped cassette, which was recorded by Dick Connor when the discussion on new article and key ideas happened. Dick Connor was wont to tape-record discussions of important meetings. Jeffrey, when he was for the first time started listening to the cassette tape, was surprised to get many valuable insights from the listening of tapes which he did not get during the live discussions however he was and though unfortunately he took notes of the discussions.

In fact, the insights he got while listening to tape were better than those he observed and made notes of during actual discussions. Jeffery felt that note taking should be done after listening to tapes rather than during the discussions.

Davidson P.Jeffrey, How To Get Noticed And Get Ahead In The Business World, Jaico Books, Bombay, 1995, pp-81-82

Active Listening

Active listening can also be referred to as 'attentive listening' or 'deliberate listening'.

Active listening takes place when the listener is active, which is born out by active participation of the listener. The listener displays forwarding-bending body posture, seeks clarification, and give feedback. Active listening is a highly involved listening.

The ideal listening takes place when active listening is combined with empathetic listening wherein the views of the both listener and speaker are merged with due balance.

The responsibility for active listening to happen completely lies with the speaker who should be able to generate interest on the topic by proper introduction etc.

Attentive listening requires attention skills, following skills and reflecting skills. (Raman, Meenakshi and Singh, Prakash, Business Communication, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 99-100.) Attentive skills include a posture of occupation, appropriate body motion, proper eye contact and non-disruptive environment. Following skills include proper display of interest, proper invitation to the speaker, moderate encouraging nods, infrequent questions and attentive silence. Reflecting skills include paraphrasing, restating the emotions of the speaker, re-expressing the meaning intended by the speaker and striking the summary of the ideas at some intervals.

Evaluating Listening

In evaluative listening, the listener either assesses the value of the message or compares it with what is usually considered the best. He may do this either simultaneously while listening or by stopping for while. Since evaluation takes place in this kind of listening, the listener may decide either to continue listening or turn away from the listening. Alternately, he may engage himself in framing the statement of rebuttal. His evaluative listening may lead to either positive or negative exit depending on the open-mindedness and intellect of the listener.

Fake Listening

The listener pretends to be listening though not listening actually. It is also referred to as Pseudo listening. He uses he bodily posture and fixation of eyes on the speaker to show that he is listening. This aim of such listening is to please either the speaker or the other observers. This is similar to passive listening except that there is no dishonesty on the part of listener in passive listening, whereas, the fake listening is born of dishonesty. This is the most undesirable negative kind of listening.

Informative Listening

Informative listening takes a lot of information with full concentration and thus helps one understand the message being given. Because of intensity of effort in taking most of the information, the message is understood almost close to what is intended. This is the best way to learn and an ideal kind of listening. While imbibing what is given by the teachers or while taking instructions from the superiors or when the subordinate is explaining the problem he is facing, the listener engages himself in informative listening. Informative listening requires a lot of attention.

Informative listening is the first stage of positive listening from which other types of listening like attentive listening, evaluative listening, empathic listening etc. originate.

Informative listening requires good vocational, concentration and memory so as to be effective in achieving its purpose. (Raman, Meenakshi and Singh, Prakash, Business Communication, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, p.98).

Appreciative Listening

The primary purpose of appreciative listening is to appreciate and thus enjoy the way the message is being given, but not to take the benefit of the content or meaning of the message. Appreciative listening typically takes place while listening to the music or when one enjoys the style of the speaker or other features not related to the content.

The best benefit of appreciative listening is realized depending on three conditions: presentation, perception and previous experience. (Raman, Meenakshi and Singh, Prakash, Business Communication, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, p.101.). Presentation factors include the style, the medium, the setting and personality of the speaker. Secondly, the perception of the listener, which again depends on its attitude and expectations, determines how one appreciates the presentation. Lastly, the previous experience of the listener and his familiarity with the speaker determines whether he would enjoy the presentation or not. Existing positive opinion or familiarity with certain inherent and negligible drawbacks in the presentation may help one appreciate the presentation.

Critical Listening

Informative listening when combined with evaluative listening becomes critical listening.

Critical listening has its value when somebody is soliciting us to buy his product or services. We critically listen when somebody makes unbelievably nice offer or presents a new idea to solve problems. Similarly, we engage ourselves in critical listening when listening to politicians, new paper accounts, presentation of revolutionary ideas towards changing existing policies etc. Aristotle has proposed three preclusions to observe to make effective criticism. They are ethos (speaker's credibility), logos (logical arguments), and pathos (emotional appearances).

Critical thinking leaves one as a highly logical person. But, emotions like faith and ability to see what is not visible like what great business leaders like Ambani, Bill Gates, Narayana Murthy etc saw fall outside the logic, though they are highly essential for big-ticket success. A highly logical person is not emotional and hence remains mediocre all his life.

Discriminative Listening

Discriminative listener is one who is sensitive to the changes in the speaker's rate, volume, force, pitch and stress on different words or ideas. One who listen attentively or critically or with the intent of evaluation or to appreciate the speaker has to listen discriminatingly.

Discriminative listening requires ultimate hearing ability shorn of any hearing defects, awareness of nuances of words, awareness of sounds and pronunciations, and ability to sense non-verbal signals from the speaker.

Literal Listening

In literal listening, content only is taken while ignoring the relationship between the facts in the content. Due to this, the meaning of the message is lost.

Understanding the types of listening will prepare one against negative listening. The person who listens in a positive manner is to going to achieve the purpose of such listening.