Types of Listening Skills

Friends chatting while walking in park
Man listening to his friend talk while walking through the woods. (Image: Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

You probably hear commands such as "Listen to me!" during interpersonal communications, but the speaker wants you to hear what he is saying, and to interpret his meaning. Context and relationship define the type of listening -- active, empathic, critical or enjoyment -- that is most effective in any given situation.

Empathic Listening

Empathic listening, more than any other listening skill, is focused on the needs of the speaker. When you listen with empathy, you let the speaker know you care about her. Without passing judgment or offering advice, the empathic listener encourages the speaker -- through body language and subtle cues -- to tell his story or state his grievances. The purpose of empathic listening is to allow another person to release emotions.

Critical Listening

Unlike empathic listening, which is non-judgmental, critical listening involves judgment. During critical listening, a listener takes into consideration the possible motives of the speaker and the context, as well as the words. When a salesman points out the qualities of an item, a critical listener analyzes the speaker's words and the situation and makes judgments about the speaker's truthfulness or sincerity, as well as the usefulness of the item to the listener.

Active Listening

Active listening is aptly described by the Chinese picture symbol for "listen." On the left is the symbol for ear, and on the right are symbols for eyes, paying attention and heart. Both empathic and critical listening skills are used during active listening, and even silence is an important part of active listening, according to the article "Active Listening" on the U.S. Department of State website. By withholding judgments, solutions or advice, the active listener sometimes simply waits and uses non-verbal language to let the speaker know that he is paying attention. Unlike empathic listening, active listening involves asking questions and seeking to understand the other person's meaning. Like critical listening, active listening analyzes the speaker's words for intent.

Listening for Enjoyment

Listening for enjoyment involves attending to sounds for pleasure. Through enjoyment listening people are entertained and emotionally and physically affected as pleasure centers in the brain are activated. Paying attention to music is one of the most popular forms of enjoyment listening. Listening to sports broadcasts, comedians or poetry readings are other examples of listening for pleasure.

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