Master the different types of listening skills to improve your communication and advance your career
Job candidates who want to improve their skill set and fuel greater career advancement are often advised to focus on key soft skills like communication. As a result, there’s a strong emphasis on learning how to effectively convey ideas and information to other people. However, that’s only one part of the communication process. To truly master the art of communication, you also need to know how to listen effectively.
In this post, we’ll examine eight different types of listening skills and explain how they can help you in your communication efforts. We’ll also provide some helpful tips that you can use to actively improve your listening abilities.
Eight important types of listening skills
Below, we will look at eight different types of listening styles and explore their value in the communication process. As you read through each description, consider how you can use that style of listening to improve your own communication at work and throughout other areas of your life.
1. Discriminative listening
This type of listening is an innate ability that even small children possess. It’s the first listening skill that a human uses, even before they have a well-developed vocabulary or understand more than a few words. In fact, discriminative listening relies on cues that go beyond verbal understanding. When you use this skill, you’re listening for things like changes in sound, vocal tone, verbal inflection, and nonverbal cues. This style of listening can even help to bridge the communication gap between two people who speak different languages, enabling them to achieve some level of basic understanding.
By working to develop this skill, you can improve your ability to better understand others while communicating with them. By assessing their tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and other verbal and nonverbal cues, you can learn to identify subtleties in their messages and read between the lines of what is said and not said. This can be vital for ensuring that you always understand what others are telling you.
2. Sympathetic listening
Sympathetic listening requires the ability to focus on other people’s emotions. A sympathetic listener hears what the other person says but looks beyond the message to assess the speaker’s emotional state. Human communication often includes an emotional component, so being able to identify and sympathize with others’ emotions can be essential for understanding their messaging. By learning how to recognize and sympathize with other people’s feelings, you can build deeper and more valuable relationships with everyone around you.
This type of listening can be useful for effectively interacting with colleagues, but has even greater value for managers and leaders within an organization. Most employees need to feel as though their emotions are being respected and validated by their superiors. Taking the time to learn how to employ this listening style can help you to develop bonds of trust and loyalty with everyone on your team.
3. Therapeutic listening
Therapeutic listening is a type of listening skill that you can use to better understand another person’s perspective. To use this style of listening effectively, you need to be able to put yourself into the speaker’s shoes and try to see things from their point of view. This takes empathy, rather than sympathy, and allows you to gain greater insight into other people’s problems. As a result, it can be a powerful way to build rapport with colleagues and others who either seek advice or simply want to vent their frustrations.
To effectively use this style of listening, you will need to encourage others to open up to you and express themselves. Neutral body language, good eye contact, and focused facial expressions can help to provide nonverbal cues that demonstrate your interest in what they are saying. As you listen to them, nod your head occasionally to show that you’re listening to everything they say. Throughout the process, make sure that you’re focused on putting yourself in their place, as though their current problem is yours.
Counselors, Therapists, and conflict resolution specialists often use these skills to help them to fully understand other people’s mindsets and attitudes toward the challenges in their lives. When used effectively, it can be a great technique to help you discover the real root causes of many problems and disputes.
4. Comprehensive listening
Comprehensive listening is a skill that people use to decode and understand messages that they hear. Like discriminative listening, this skill is one that people use for most of their lives. Unlike discriminative listening, however, it’s not an innate ability. Instead, people begin to learn the basic vocabulary and language skills needed to understand verbal messages in early childhood and continue to develop those talents as they grow older.
Comprehensive listening skills are vital since they are used for other types of listening. Without the ability to understand and decode verbal messages, it would be impossible to effectively use sympathetic, therapeutic, critical, informational, or reflective listening. In addition, it’s also important to recognize that comprehensive listening is often used in combination with discriminative listening. As you hear words, you also note things like tone, inflection, and body language. Together, those key listening skills help you to properly interpret the messages you receive.
5. Critical listening
The ability to listen critically is important for anyone who wants to understand complicated messages. It’s essential for decoding complex data, evaluating the information that you’re hearing, and using your interpretation skills to effectively solve problems and create solutions. This style of listening is even more focused than comprehensive listening, requiring you to do more than just decode a given message. You also need to draw upon your experiences and knowledge base to interpret that message within a broader context.
People who use critical listening are constantly analyzing the messages they receive and assessing the data to determine its relevance and accuracy. Can the information be trusted? How does it compare to what you already know? If there’s an inconsistency between what you’re hearing and your existing knowledge base, how can you reconcile those differences? Obviously, critical listening is a deep and complex skill, since it requires you to constantly analyze what you hear and make key decisions about how you’re going to interpret that information.
Critical listening skills are so important that they form the foundation for many group problem-solving efforts. For example, it would be impossible to effectively brainstorm with others if no one possessed this type of listening skill. It would also be difficult for participants to generate new ideas, create solutions to problems, or otherwise collaborate in an effective way.
6. Informational listening
Informational listening is another deeper form of listening and seeks to not only understand the message you’re hearing but also retain that comprehension. This type of listening is used by students in the classroom, employees at work, and anyone who wants to acquire knowledge from the things they hear. Effective use of this listening style requires strong focus and concentration, as well as critical thinking skills to assess the information you’re receiving.
Improving your ability to use informational listening can be a key component of any effort to become a life-long learner. By honing this skill, you can ensure that you not only properly interpret what you’re hearing, but also absorb that knowledge in a way that expands your broader comprehension of the world around you. Use informational listening to develop new skills, gain greater expertise in your chosen field, and acquire more insight and understanding from every interaction.
7. Reflective listening
Reflective listening is a style of communication that incorporates several other types of listening. To use it effectively, you need to be able to properly interpret a message’s core idea by evaluating not only the words, but the emotions expressed by the speaker. This listening style doesn’t end with that decoding, however. It also requires you to repeat that message back to the source, in your own words. By reflecting the message in this way, you can confirm that your understanding is correct.
To use this strategy effectively, you need to actively listen to what you’re hearing and analyze the speaker’s words, body language, and emotional cues. You then decode that overall message and repeat it back to the speaker to confirm your interpretation.
Reflective listening can be an important skill in many occupations. For example, Counselors often use it in their work to ensure that they fully understand what they are hearing. In business, managers can use this skill with their employees to build greater rapport and trust. Within a team setting, this type of listening can be a useful component of any conflict resolution process, as well as an important technique for effectively collaborating with others.
8. Biased listening
If you’ve ever found yourself tuning out information that you didn’t want to hear, then you’re already familiar with the concept of biased listening. Also known as selective listening or selective hearing, this type of listening can be a real impediment to effective communication. People who engage in biased listening tend to focus on the things that align with their beliefs or opinions, while ignoring data and information that runs contrary to their preconceptions.
Unfortunately, most people who engage in this type of listening are doing so unconsciously. In most instances, biased listeners are simply not open to new information or believe that their current understanding is not subject to change. A person who allows their own biases to distort the messages they hear will often misunderstand messages, interpret facts in an incorrect way, or ignore new data altogether.
Obviously, this is not a type of listening that anyone should actively try to develop, since it offers no viable benefit for improved communication. Still, it’s important to learn to recognize this biased approach to listening, so that you can avoid it in your own communication efforts. Whenever you actively listen to any message, make sure you check your biases at the door so that they don’t cloud your interpretation. In addition, learn to recognize when others are engaged in biased listening, so that you can focus on ensuring that your message is delivered in a way that they can fully understand.
Tips to help you improve your listening skills
To become a more effective listener, you should learn to improve as many of these positive listening skills as possible. Here are some tips that can help you to develop your own listening habits, become a better learner, and improve your broader communication abilities.
Focus on the speaker
If you regularly find yourself getting distracted while other people are talking, focus on changing that bad habit. Learn to maintain good eye contact when someone is speaking to you and try not to glance at your phone, look at other objects or people in the room, or stare out of the window. Chances are that you understand how frustrating it is to feel as though someone is not giving you their undivided attention during a conversation.
Try to visualize the message you’re hearing
Visualization can help to improve your overall comprehension when listening to others. To use visualization effectively, you need to consciously focus on the images that a speaker’s words convey. With practice, you can eventually learn to associate the words you hear with visual representations that help to reinforce key concepts.
When you’re speaking, there are few things more disruptive than constant interruptions from your listeners. Even minor interruptions can disrupt a speaker’s flow, cause them to lose focus, and even make them lose interest in the conversation. It’s important to take those things into consideration when you’re on the receiving end of the communication process and consciously restrain yourself from interrupting the other person.
It’s also a good idea to wait until the person is done speaking before you create your response. If you craft a response while the other person is still talking, you may find yourself tuning out the rest of their message. You can avoid that by focusing all of your attention on the other person’s words and patiently waiting to consider how to respond.
Ask questions when they’re done speaking
There will be times when you won’t understand the messages that you receive. Some things that you hear may generate questions in your mind, as you try to improve your comprehension. When that happens, make a mental note of the question and ask it when the speaker’s message is complete. Again, do not interrupt the message as it’s being delivered.
In addition, try to ensure that your questions are related to the topic of the conversation and responsive to the speaker’s words. This can help to ensure that the dialogue flows in a positive direction and create a more productive and engaging communication process. It will also demonstrate that you’re paying attention and interested in what the speaker has to say.
Watch for nonverbal cues
Given the importance of body language in human communication, understanding nonverbal cues can be critical for improving your listening skills. Train yourself to pay attention to posture, facial expressions, vocal tone, pitch, gestures, and other common nonverbal forms of communication. With enough practice, you can learn to interpret others’ nonverbal cues and even draw inferences that help you to more fully comprehend the meaning of their words.
To learn more about the different types of body language, check out our post, Understand Body Language to Improve Your Communication.
Don’t judge the message as it’s being delivered
If you find that you’re resistant to a speaker’s message, there’s a good chance that you’re instinctively judging the speaker’s words. Everyone has their own biases and preconceptions, so it’s not uncommon for people to tune out messages that challenge their worldview. Unfortunately, that tendency to judge or mentally criticize messages as they are being delivered can create obstacles to comprehension and effective communication.
To avoid that obstacle, it’s important to force yourself to maintain an open mind when others speak to you. Instead of instinctively putting up walls of resistance that prevent you from fully receiving a message, give that speaker your full attention and allow them to finish talking. This can ensure that you truly understand what they’re saying or provide an opportunity to ask clarifying questions. There’s also the chance that you may not find their message so alarming once you truly understand their point of view.
Master the different types of listening to improve your communication!
The ability to effectively listen is at least as important as message delivery when it comes to effective communication. By mastering the different types of listening skills, you can learn to interpret what you hear and gain greater insight and knowledge from every interaction with others.
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