Listening is a core competency to succeed. In any relationship including training, it is key to identifying the needs of the learner or of a colleague. Listening is the combination of hearing and interpreting. Failure in either part is a failure in listening. Many significant failures in professional/business are failures to use the right type of listening. Each type of listening is useful in different scenarios and is often practiced intuitively. Knowing that there are different types of listening and how each can be applied is useful for being a better listener.
Basic types of listening:
Discriminative listening is when the listener interprets and assigns meaning to sound rather than to words. In discriminative listening, the listener interprets the differences and nuances of sounds and body language. The listener is sensitive to attributes including rate, volume, pitch, and emphasis in speaking. This type of listening is the most basic form of listening. We learn this form of listening early in life. Recognition and interpretation of accents are an example of discriminative listening.
Comprehensive listening is the interpretation of words and ideas. Comprehensive listening involves understanding the thoughts, ideas, and message. This type of listening requires that the listener understands the language and vocabulary. Comprehensive listening builds on discriminative learning. If you can’t understand the sound, you will not be able to interpret the language. Mismatches in vocabulary can disrupt comprehension.
Informational listening is a type of goal-based listening that requires the listener to interpret verbal and non-verbal cues to learn. Students in a lecture hall are often in informational listening mode (alternate modes might include critical thinking or sleeping). The listener typically is a less active participant in the listening process. One non-verbal signal that someone is in informational listening mode is that they are taking notes. This form of listening to the listener focuses on understanding the speaker’s message postponing critical thinking and processing until later. In the corporate environment, this type of listening is often used when listening to reports, briefing, and speeches. In a recent story development session in which an Agile team was interacting with a group of experts, I observed one person leading the questioning and probing while several other team members listened and took notes. The note-takers were using informational listening.
Critical listening focuses on evaluating and analyzing information. This is a more active form of listening that includes evaluating and making judgments. The listener is interacting with the information in order to make a judgment. In a scenario where someone is trying to persuade a listener that they should adopt a technique, the listener is typically using critical thinking. Almost all sales scenarios use critical listening. In the story development scenario alluded to earlier, the questioner was using critical listening to evaluate the answers and to plan the next question.
We will be reviewing 4 types of listening to help develop soft skills.
- Relational listening.
- Critical listening
- Discriminative listening
- Appreciative listening
Relational Listening: A listening style is your favored but usually unconscious approach to attending to your friend/partner’s messages. A relational listening style means that when we listen to a message we tend to focus on what it tells us about our conversational friend/partners and their feelings.
We engage in this type of listening when we are trying to focus on supporting another person or maintaining a relationship. This is the type of listening to we engage in with our closest friends and our relatives. Sometimes the most important factor in listening is in order to develop or sustain a relationship. This is why friends/lovers talk for hours and attend closely to what each other has to say when the same words from someone else would seem to be rather boring. Relational/Relationship listening is also important in areas such as negotiation and sales, where it is helpful if the other person likes you and trusts you.
So what is relational listening? Relational listening is listening so that you can empathize. Most of us, even when we are really listening to others, are listening in order to compete. For example, we are listening but our inner dialogue is thinking about a better story, or not necessarily a better story but our own story, to tell as soon as the person we are “listening” to is done. We don’t listen to hear, we listen so we can bring better comments or thoughts to the conversation. Relational listening is empathetic listening.
Critical Listening: While critical listeners have the ability to really get to know other people, as they listen to them, every successful salesperson knows that before a sale can be made, you must understand the needs and expectations of your customer. Listening is required to accomplish this objective.
Critical listening involves:
- Hearing what someone says.
- Identifying key points.
- Solidifying your opinion.
When you engage in critical listening, your goal is to analyze what the speaker is saying and determine his agenda. Critical listening is a form of listening that is usually not mentioned since it involves analysis, critical thinking, and judgment. Making judgments during listening is often considered a barrier to understanding a person, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Critical listening takes practice. By practicing the first step “hearing what someone says”. After that Practice building on to that step 2. “Identifying key points” practice, and build the last step 3. Solidifying your opinion. (Making an opinion based on only the facts/evidence presented), not a personal opinion.
Discriminative Listening: Discriminative listening is when you look past the words you hear to detect the underlying message. It might be one of the most important types of listening.
Being able to distinguish the subtleties of sound made by somebody who is happy or sad, angry or stressed, for example, ultimately adds value to what is actually being said and, of course, does aid comprehension. When discriminative listening skills are combined with visual stimuli, the resulting ability to ‘listen’ to body language enables us to begin to understand the speaker more fully – for example recognizing somebody is sad despite what they are saying or how they are saying it.
Discriminative listening is the most basic type of listening, whereby the difference between different sounds is identified. If you cannot hear differences, then you cannot make sense of the meaning that is expressed by such differences.
We learn to discriminate between sounds within our own language early, and later are unable to discriminate between the phonemes of other languages. This is one reason why a person from one country finds it difficult to speak another language perfectly, as they are unable to distinguish the subtle sounds that are required in that language.
Likewise, a person who cannot hear the subtleties of emotional variation in another person’s voice will be less likely to be able to discern the emotions the other person is experiencing.
Appreciative Listening: Appreciative listening is exactly what the name implies — listening to enjoy the story, music, or information you hear.
Appreciative listening is a type of listening behavior where the listener seeks certain information which they will appreciate, for example, that which helps meet his/her needs and goals. One uses appreciative listening when listening to good music, poetry, or maybe even the stirring words of a great leader.
Appreciative listening included focusing on the person speaking. Put all items down and focus on the person. Giving full undivided attention. Letting the person speak until they naturally stop talking.
The American Society for Training and Development recommends that to truly embark on appreciative listening, you should avoid engaging in other communications and focus solely on the sounds or words.
So, when someone is speaking to you, focus on them.