4 listening styles communicators should know

It’s one thing to hear a customer, but quite another to understand what he’s really trying to tell you. These listening styles can help you figure it out.

In all relationships, communicating is not so much about what you say, but what your listeners hear.

Since social media and digital marketing are a never-ending circle of talking and listening, it helps if you know what listening really is.

I hear you!

“I hear you” is a common phrase, but listening is different from hearing.

Hearing involves sound waves, eardrums, the cochlea and thousands of tiny hair cells that turn vibrations into electrical signals. These signals tell the brain you are hearing a noise, and identify what the noise is.

Yes, it’s complicated (thank you, evolution), but if you’ve been in a relationship or two, you know listening is even harder.

We often say one thing when we mean another. Maybe we’re shy, don’t like confrontation, or are just really passive aggressive. But when we say one thing and mean another, our bodies give us away: We fidget, sweat, inflect our voices or avoid eye contact.

That is all well and good when you’re face to face with someone (or a trained detective), but when you comment on a blog or interact on social media, others don’t have the luxury of seeing those physical tics.

Listening strategy

Look at it this way: Hearing is the practical, and listening is the strategy. And as with most things strategic, there’s more than one way to listen.

As a communicator, you should know which type of listening to use in every situation, as well as how to use those skills to your advantage. Here are four (of many) types of listening:

1. Appreciative listening

Appreciative listening is exactly what the name implies — listening to enjoy the story, music or information you hear.

The American Society for Training and Development recommends that, to truly embark in appreciative listening, you should avoid engaging in other communications and focus solely on the sounds or words.

So, when someone is speaking to you, put your phone down!

2. Critical listening

Critical listening involves hearing what someone says, identifying key points and/or arguments and solidifying your opinion. Think of a debate, or how you feel when you listen to a politician speak.

When you engage in critical listening, your goal is to analyze what the speaker is saying and determine his agenda.

3. Relationship listening

Relationship listening is one of the most important skills to have when dealing with people. Relationship listening is also known as therapeutic or empathetic listening.

You would use relationship listening to help a friend through a problem, solve a conflict between co-workers or prompt people to open up through support and honesty.

4. 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 for online marketers.

This works best in person, as you can look to body language, tone changes and volume to determine what the speaker really thinks and feels.

However, these days we’re not often face-to-face with clients or customers. We need to adapt to become better online discriminative listeners as we engage more and more via texts, Facebook comments and snappy tweets.

Understanding the difference between hearing and listening is a vital skill, whether you deal with people in the boardroom or through comments on your brand’s blog.

Which types of listening do you practice most?

Lindsay Bell is the content director at Arment Dietrich. A version of this article originally appeared on the Feedblitz blog.


4 Responses to “4 listening styles communicators should know”

    Dan says:

    I’m in construction sales, and constantly interacting with customers and this is great info. But I’m also a drug alcohol counselor, and listening is critical but I need to develop my listening skills. Is there some book you could recommend to app elaborate on this subject of “listening” further?

    Norma Mohr says:

    There is another style of listening. It’s called selective listening. This type of listening involves hearing someone, but choosing to listen, only to the parts of the conversation that pertain to, or interest you.

    Surekha says:

    Yes, selective listening, often seen when a husband listens to his wife or a person ‘listens’ to in- laws

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