One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say – Bryant H McGill
Let’s think about our communication diagram:
Notice the “S” man on the right. He is our sender, the initiator of the communication process. He is the one with the message to be sent. The “S” man could have any type of reason for sending a message, but the overarching reason is to deliver meaning to the “R” man on the left, the receiver. The “R” man, as long as he is in range, will do one of two things. He will hear the message or he will listen to the message. (See our post,Comparing Hearing and Listening, to review the difference between hearing and listening.) If he simply hears the message, no meaning has been received and the communication cycle stops. But if he is listening, his understanding and retention will vary depending on the type of listening he engages.
Now let’s suppose that YOU are the “R” man on the right. “S” man is counting on you to know which types of listening are appropriate. While “S” man is responsible for sending the message in a method that you are willing to receive, you, as “R” man, are responsible for actual act of listening. To help you to fulfill your duties as a great and powerful “R” man, you should understand the different types of listening, along with their advantages in different situations.
5 Types of Listening
Appreciative Listening is for your enjoyment. It doesn’t require much focus, nor does it result in much retention. This could also be called “social listening”. You could be sitting on the bleachers at your son’s little league game listening to a mother telling you about the day her child is the best hitter on the team. The big difference between appreciative listening and just hearing is that you are accepting meaning from the “S” man. You are forming visions, ideas, or responses because of them. You smile and nod at the woman.
Discriminative Listening requires more effort so that you are listening to the meaning behind the message. Your goal is to understand “S” man. You listen to the words, pay attention to the nonverbal cues, and form opinions on what you see and hear. You use discriminative listening when your mechanic explains what that “thump thump” coming from your car means. Nonverbals like rolling his eyes, wringing his hands, or winking to another mechanic, may add a different meaning to his verbal diagnosis of “nothing wrong.” Or imagine being in a room with a group of people speaking a language you don’t know. Without understanding a word being said, you gain a lot of clues just from the inflections and gestures accompanying the words.
Comprehensive Listening attempts to not only understand “S” man’s message, but also to learn from or remember what is being communicated. The previous two types of listening focused simply on decoding meaning. You may or may not remember the details later, but understood what was being communicated. When you move into comprehensive listening, you are intending to remember the meaning behind the message. Use your comprehensive listening skills when your pharmacist is explaining how your new medications should be taken. A parent listens to remember what her teenager plans to do on her evening out with friends.
Emphatic Listening attempts to not only understand the message, but to understand how the “S” man feels about what he is saying. Counselors, therapists, and clergy are obvious examples of people who must be skilled in emphatic listening. But if your “S” man is a friend or colleague needing a sounding board, you’ll want to be able to listen appropriately. Have you ever poured your heart out to a significant person in your life, only to realize they were in social listening mode? May as well have been talking to the mirror.
Critical Listening requires you to hear, understand, evaluate and judge a message. It’s the most demanding form of listening because of the focus and concentration required. You must decode verbal and nonverbal messages and evaluate the “S” man’s credibility and honesty. Then you should analyze the message to determine if you believe it and if it is important enough to remember. Use your critical listening skills when listening to a salesman trying to earn a commission through you or to a politician trying to earn your vote.
Why are you Listening?
Preparing to listen does not mean sitting in an auditorium with your pencil and paper ready to take notes. It doesn’t have to be planned or analyzed. Usually it just happens. But an awareness of why you are listening, and what you hope to gain or do because of the listening, makes you a better “R” man. Just understanding that there are different types of listening can help you to remember what you are supposed to do with that message “S” man sent to you.
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