Listening is a lost art. We sometimes say one thing and mean something else. Often we assume someone will intuitively know what we are talking about when usually they don’t. HEARING and LISTENING are actually very different from each other. Think of it this way: Hearing is the practical…not a lot of skill required but LISTENING involves strategy and it takes quite a bit of skill. For some people, listening comes easily and seems to require little effort but for most of us it is an acquired skill. This article discusses the 4 main ways to listen.

If you want to be an effective communicator, you need to know what type of listening to use in a given situation. The more adept you are at understanding and effectively using this skill, the better you will be at hearing what people are REALLY saying. This puts you in the best possible position to communicate with them in the most efficient way.

1. Appreciative Listening

This type is listening is just as the name implies; you enjoy hearing the story, music, poetry or gathering the information that you are seeking. You would think that this would be the most popular of the 4 types of listening, but that isn’t the case.

According to organizational coach, Marion Langford, for most leaders talking takes up the bulk of their day: answering questions, setting direction, speaking with people about what needs to be done, etc.   It is typical for a leader to want to find the “speed up” button when people are speaking or to be multi-tasking while listening.  As a result, it’s pretty common for leaders to feel impatient with speakers and to view listening as a necessary evil of their job.

 Appreciative Listening is not passive. It is a highly active, totally focused form of attention.  In contrast to active listening where you’re expected to repeat or confirm that you’ve understood what’s been said, appreciative listening asks you to show that you understand the person. If you’d like to practice this form of listening, I highly recommend you read Marion’s Introduction to Appreciative Listening, she has some great tips. So when someone is talking to you, put down the phone!

2. Critical Listening

Critical listening involves hearing what someone says, identifying the key points and then forming your own opinion. Think of a debate, or how you feel when you listen to a politician speak.

When you use Critical Listening, you are trying to analyze what the speaker is saying to determine his or her agenda. This type of listening is used when you want to understand what the other person is saying, but also have a reason or responsibility to evaluate what is being said to you and how it is being said. This involves analysis, critical thinking and judgement and takes considerable practice. did a cool video on how to practice critical listening. If you’re interested, click HERE.

3. Relationship listening

Relationship listening is one of the most important skills to have when interacting with people. Relationship listening is also known as empathetic listening. This method of listening improves mutual understanding and trust.

You would use relationship listening to help a friend through a problem, solve a conflict between co-workers or prompt people to open up by showing empathy and care. Richard Salem, a high profile mediator, says that empathetic listening is a “core skill that will strengthen the interpersonal effectiveness of individuals in many aspects of their professional and personal lives.”

4. Discriminative listening

Discriminative listening happens when you look past the words you hear to detect the underlying message. If you are in sales, this might be the most important type of listening for you. Salesmen are trained to “not take no for an answer” and this is often because a “no” can usually be turned into a “yes” if you can discern what the prospective buyer is actually telling you. This works best in person, observing body language, tone changes and volume to determine what the speaker really thinks and feels and thus turn that no into a YES!

Discriminitive listening is the most basic form of listening. According to researchers, it is first developed at a very early age – perhaps even before birth, in the womb. Being able to distinguish the subtleties of sound made by somebody who is happy or sad, angry or stressed, for example, adds value to what is actually being said and, of course, aids in comprehension. 

Here is an example: Imagine yourself surrounded by people who are speaking a language that you can’t understand.   Maybe your are passing through an airport or a crowded town square in a foreign country.  You can hear different voices, male and female, young and old and gain some understanding about what is happening based on the tone of voice, mannerisms and body language of the other people even though you might not be able to understand what is actually being said. You are using discriminative listening to gain a level of understanding about your surroundings. This skill, combined with some of the other types I’ve mentioned will enable you to really HEAR what people are saying when they are speaking to you.

Learning and understanding the difference between hearing and listening is an important skill for each of us to know and practice. Most of us favor one of the above types of listening methods but the more we can effectively use each type when it is appropriate, the better listeners we will be and in the long run, the better communicators we will be as well.

Which type of listening skill do you utilize most?

Categories: Productivity


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