Types of Listening

Learning Objectives

Describe the different types of listening.

We regularly engage in several different types of listening. Each type of listening requires the listener to have an intent.

Appreciative Listening

Appreciative listening means we are listening for pleasure. Examples include when we are tuning our attention in to a song we like, a poetry reading, actors in a play, or sitcom antics on television.

Relational Listening

Relational listening happens when we are listening to a friend or family member, building our relationship with another by offering support and showing empathy for their feelings in the situation they are discussing. We are engaged with them in the moment and listening.

Empathetic or Therapeutic Listening

Therapists, counselors, and conflict mediators are trained in different listening levels. One important aspect of their job is to listen closely for the purpose of helping the client.

Critical Listening

We engage in this type of listening when we are at a political event, attending a debate, or enduring a salesperson touting the benefits of various brands of a product. We are required to be attentive to key points that influence or confirm our judgments.

Informational Listening

The focus is to gain and remember information during informational listening. We do this kind of listening often when we are in a classroom setting, a doctor’s office, or a workplace meeting.

Yet, despite all the ways we practice listening every day, Nichols called listening a “lost art.”[1] The ease of sitting passively without really listening is well known to anyone who has sat in a boring class with a professor droning on about one topic or another. You hear the words the professor is saying while you check Facebook or Instagram under the desk on your phone. Yet, when the professor structures the exam questions on a topic covered in class, you realize you didn’t actually listen. Trying to recall what you heard is a challenge because you did not focus your attention and intend to remember what was said. Thus, the information is lost.

Have you ever spent time with an infant or toddler? If so, you know that they are amazing at listening. In fact, listening is one of the first skills infants gain. They use it to acquire language and learn to communicate with their parents. As we get older, how we listen changes, yet the necessity for listening does not. Communication theorists have consistently agreed that we listen far more than we engage in any other communication practice, whether speaking, reading, or writing.[2][3] [4] [5]

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  1. Nichols, M. P. (2009). The Lost Art of Listening, Second Edition: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships. United Kingdom: Guilford Publications.
  2. Rankin, Paul T. "The importance of listening," English Journal, 19, October, 1928, pp. 623–30.
  3. Wilt, Miriam E. "A study of teacher awareness of listening as a factor in elementary education," Journal of Educational Research, 43 (8), April, 1950, pp. 626–36.
  4.  Hyslop, N. B., & Tone, B. (1989). Listening: Are we teaching it, and if so, how?. The Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication52(2), 45–6. https://www.ericdigests.org/pre-928/listening.htm
  5.  LeLoup, J. W., & Ponterio, R. (2007). Listening: You've got to be carefully taught. Language Learning & Technology11(1), 4–15.