Whether you’re participating in a staff meeting, discussing an employee’s lack of motivation, or just having a conversation in the breakroom with colleagues, you are likely focused on mentally preparing a response. While it is natural to do this, it inevitably impacts your ability to fully listen and understand what is (or what isn’t) being said. In fact, a lack of listening is a common cause of bad communication in the workplace.
To help you become a better listener at work, we have outlined the definitions, use cases, and even example phrases of six of the most common types of listening.
As the name suggests, informational listening is used to learn and understand information or a message. It requires the listener to eliminate distractions to focus and take notes or record the speaker to aid in the retention and recall of the information. This type of listening is commonly used in the workplace (ex. One-on-one meetings) and in learning environments (ex. A Niagara Institute leadership development program).
The University of Waterloo defines critical listening as, “A process for evaluating, judging, and forming an opinion on what you hear. The listener assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the content, and then agrees or disagrees with the information.” This type of listening can also be referred to as evaluative listening. It can prove challenging for some in the workplace as it takes practice, experience, and training to learn sound judgment and discernment skills, which allow you to think beyond "the face value" of a message.
Empathetic listening is crucial when dealing with interpersonal situations in the workplace. It is when you listen to what a person is saying (or not saying) to understand their feelings and emotions. This type of listening is less focused on coming to a conclusion or defining action items and more on supporting another person, making them feel seen and heard, and even creating a sense of belonging. Phrases like, “I can see why this is bothering you” and “I appreciate that you trusted me with this. I know it wasn’t easy,” are telltale signs of empathetic listening.
Appreciative listening naturally occurs when we enjoy, take pleasure in, or are inspired by a speaker and their message. In other words, we need little to no enticement to give the speaker our full attention. Many people leaders strive to have this type of effect on those they lead, so they invest time, budget, and energy into communication programs like Speaking as a Leader to learn such skills and tools.
Every day in our personal and professional lives, we engage in selective listening. This type of listening is simply a conscious effort and choice to listen to a specific person or message. You may also hear it referred to as the “cocktail party effect.” That’s because if you think about a cocktail party, many people are often engaged in different conversations at once. Yet, despite all the noise, you can hone in on a single conversation if you so choose.
If you’ve ever used phrases like, “What I hear you saying is…,” “It sounds like…,” or “If I hear you correctly…” then you may have been practicing reflective listening. That’s because this type of listening is defined as, “When a listener tries to clarify and restate what the other person is saying.” In other words, your response is not about your perspective, thoughts, or opinion. Instead, it is about acknowledging the person you are listening to that you heard and understand them. In doing so, you give the speaker a chance to clarify any misunderstanding immediately or further define their thoughts and feelings.
Conclusion: Listen and Communicate More Effectively with Niagara Institute
If you genuinely want to improve your communication and listening skills, you need to be able to analyze a situation and adapt your listening style accordingly. For example, your listening style would be very different in a training course than when talking to an upset colleague. One way to learn how to do so is to enroll in a communication program that provides opportunities for practice and discussion with peers, as well as practical tools and best practices to become a great listener.