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7 types of listening that can change your life and work

August 31, 2022 - 14 min read


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Why is listening so important in life and at work?

7 types of listening skills

Learn all types of listening to improve your life and your work

The importance of listening can’t be overstated. 

While learning to communicate what you want to say is important, knowing how to listen using different types of listening skills is just as crucial for communication. 

Not only can it help you process information on different levels, but it can also help you build relationships with others.

That’s because listening goes deeper than just hearing.

It’s also much more than listening to the words someone else is saying. While this is one type of listening, it isn’t the only one that matters.

Let’s discuss the various types of listening and why listening is important for helping you advance your career and life.


Why is listening so important in life and at work? 

Listening is a key component of effective communication skills.

Regardless of the type, listening is key to understanding what other people are really trying to say. Without listening, it's easy to get something wrong and make assumptions.

On the other hand, when you actively listen, you can fully communicate with someone else. 

Listening is the most important part of communication. That’s because it allows you to come up with a substantial and meaningful response. You can pick up on subtleties you wouldn’t have otherwise, especially with body language.

If something isn’t clear, you can ask clarifying questions. This is something you might not have done without active listening.

At work, communication is an important soft skill. According to LinkedIn's 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 80% of companies say that soft skills are increasingly important to their success.

Listening is also important for productive collaboration

According to the same LinkedIn report, collaboration is the third most important soft skill companies need. 

Imagine trying to collaborate if you can’t actively listen to your colleagues. Information gets lost, and misunderstandings occur.

The same can happen if everyone on the team uses different levels of listening. Some people will be more engaged than others. Not everyone will get the same understanding of the same conversation. 

You can avoid this if everyone actively listens to each other.

Plus, when you actively listen, your colleagues and your superiors will notice that you come up with meaningful responses. 

Listening is also crucial if you want to learn effectively.

Without attentive listening, it can be easy to miss small details that make a difference in your learning.


Active listening games

You can improve team communication with active listening games.

In one such game, you and your colleagues can split up into groups of two. The first person in each group is given a picture, while the other person is given a pen and paper. 

The second participant needs to ask questions in order to accurately draw the image the first participant is holding.

In another game, participants need to mime non-verbal cues to express their feelings about a topic. The other participants need to write down what they believe the other person feels.

Finally, you can practice active listening by having all participants listen to one person speak for three to five minutes. During this time, no other participants may speak. Afterwards, the other participants need to paraphrase what they think the other person said.


7 types of listening skills

There are several types of listening you can develop both at home and at work.

Let’s explore seven of these types of listening, why they matter, and what they can look like:

1. Informational listening

When you want to learn something, you’ll use informational listening to understand and retain information. 

It usually takes a high level of concentration to perform this type of listening. That’s because you need to be highly engaged to understand a new concept.

You also need to apply critical thinking to what you are learning. This is so you can understand what you’re learning within the context of relevant information.

Some examples of informational listening include:

  • Work training
  • Self-paced learning at home or at work
  • Listening to an educational ebook
  • Coaching

When you know how to use informational listening, you empower yourself to become a better learner. By actively learning and improving yourself, you can become a more valuable asset in your place of work.

You can also feel more fulfilled when you pursue your passions and learn something new at home.

2. Discriminative listening

Discriminative listening is the first listening type that you’re born with.

Everyone innately has discriminative listening skills.

You use this type of listening before you even know how to understand words. Instead of relying on words, discriminative listening uses tone of voice, verbal cues, and other changes in sound.

Discriminative listening is how babies understand the intention of a phrase before they can understand words. If someone speaks to them in a happy and amused tone of voice, they’ll smile and laugh back.

They can also tell who is talking because they recognize different voices.

But discriminative listening isn’t just for babies.

If you’re listening to a conversation happening in a foreign language, you’ll likely automatically use your discriminative listening skills.

These will allow you to analyze tone and inflection to get an idea of what is going on.

You can also use nonverbal cues to listen and analyze. For instance, someone’s facial expressions, body language, and other mannerisms can tell you a lot about the meaning of someone’s message.

You shouldn't discount discriminative listening, even if you understand someone’s language.

This listening style is key to understanding the subtle cues in a conversation. Using this listening skill can help you read between the lines and hear what remains unspoken.

Here’s an example: 

Let’s say you ask one of your colleagues if they agree with a course of action.

They say yes, but you can tell from their body language, such as shifting uncomfortably, that something is wrong. 

Using your discriminative listening skills, you can pick up on this and ask them if they’re certain. You can also ask if something is going on that they’d like to discuss.


3. Biased listening 

Biased listening is also known as selective listening.

Someone who uses biased listening will only listen for information that they specifically want to hear.

This listening process can lead to a distortion of facts. That’s because the person listening isn’t fully in tune with what the speaker wishes to communicate.

Here’s an example: 

Let’s say your superior is briefing you on a new project. You’re waiting to hear about the details of this assignment because you’ve been excited for a long time about it.

Because you’re so focused on the details of the assignment, you don’t fully hear everything your superior says. As a result, you hear your superior explain how you’ll be judged on this project, but you don’t fully process it.

Because you don’t have this information, you may not perform as well as you could if you had understood all the details.

4. Sympathetic listening

Sympathetic listening is driven by emotion.

Instead of focusing on the message spoken through words, the listener focuses on the feelings and emotions of the speaker.

This is done to process these feelings and emotions.

By using sympathetic listening, you can provide the support the speaker needs. You can understand how they’re really feeling, not what they say they are feeling.

The speaker will feel heard and validated when you take the time to pay attention in this way.

Sympathetic listening is crucial if you want to build a deeper relationship with someone in your life.

For example, let’s say you run into a work colleague at the grocery store. They seem upset, so you decide to listen to what they have to say.

You also use sympathetic listening to feel how they are feeling. In doing this, you notice how frustrated they are about the lack of recognition they are getting at work.

As a result, you can offer your support and sympathize with their situation.


5. Comprehensive listening

Unlike discriminative listening, comprehensive listening requires language skills.

This type of listening is usually developed in early childhood.

People use comprehensive listening to understand what someone is saying using words.

Several other types of listening build on comprehensive listening. For example, you need to use comprehensive listening to use informational listening and learn something new.

At work and in your life, you’ll likely use a combination of comprehensive and discriminative listening to understand the messages people are giving you.

For example, let’s say your colleague briefs you on a project. You’ll need to use comprehensive listening to analyze the words and understand the message.

You’ll also use comprehensive listening when you receive feedback.

6. Empathetic or therapeutic listening

Empathetic listening is useful to help you see from other people’s perspectives.

Using this type of listening, you can try to understand someone else’s point of view as they’re speaking. You can also try to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Instead of just focusing on their message, you can use empathetic listening to relate to someone else’s experiences as if they were your own.

This is different from sympathetic listening.

With sympathetic listening, you try to understand someone’s feelings to provide support. But you don’t necessarily try to imagine what it’d feel like to be in their position.

Here’s an example: 

Let’s say your superior just announced that this week’s company outing is canceled due to budget cuts.

By using empathetic listening, you can tell how much pressure your superior is feeling. You can imagine yourself having to break the bad news. 

You know there’s pressure from higher-ups to respect the budget. You also know that there’s pressure from employees.

Instead of getting upset, you understand why your superior made this decision. That’s because you can imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes at this moment.

7. Critical listening 

If you need to analyze complex information, you’ll need to use critical listening.

Using critical thinking while listening goes deeper than comprehensive listening. Instead of taking the information at face value, you can use critical listening to evaluate what’s being said.

Critical listening is crucial when problem-solving at work. 

For example, you’d use this type of listening when trying to choose how to handle an unusual and complex client request.

You need to use this skill to analyze solutions offered by other people and decide if you agree or not. 

To do this, you don’t just need to hear their words. You also need to look at the bigger picture and compare everything you know.


Learn all types of listening to improve your life and your work 

One type of listening isn’t better than the other. Instead, these seven types of listening work together to help you better understand the messages you receive.

By being a good listener, you can become a better communicator, avoid misunderstandings, and learn new information more easily.

If you’re struggling to become an active listener, you’re not alone. You can make it easier to work on those skills through coaching from experts at BetterUp.

Schedule a coaching demo today to see how it can help you become a better listener.

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Published August 31, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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