When we engage in listening we are doing so for many different reasons depending upon the goals in which we are trying to achieve. There are four different types of listening that are essential to know when deciding what your goal as the listener is. The four types of listening are appreciative, empathic, comprehensive, and critical. Familiarize yourself with these different types of listening so you can strengthen and improve your ability to critically think and evaluate what you have heard.
When you listen for appreciation you are listening for enjoyment. Think about the music you listen to. You usually listen to music because you enjoy it. The same can be said for appreciative listening when someone is speaking. Some common types of appreciative listening can be found in sermons from places of worship, from a motivational speech by people we respect or hold in high regard, or even from a standup comedian who makes us laugh.
When you listen empathically you are doing so to show mutual concern. During this type of listening you are trying to identify with the speaker by understanding the situation in which he/she is discussing. You are stepping into the other’s shoes to get a better understanding of what it is he/she is talking about. Usually during this type of listening you want to be fully present in the moment or mindfully listening to what the speaker is saying. Your goal during this time is to focus on the speaker, not on yourself. You are trying to understand from the speaker’s perspective.
If you are watching the news, listening to a lecture, or getting directions from someone, you are listening to understand or listening to comprehend the message that is being sent. This process is active. In class, you should be focused, possibly taking notes of the speaker’s main ideas. Identifying the structure of the speech and evaluating the supports he/she offers as evidence. This is one of the more difficult types of listening because it requires you to not only concentrate but to actively participate in the process. The more you practice listening to comprehend, the stronger listener you become.
Have you ever had to buy an expensive item, such as a new appliance, a car, a cell phone, or an iPad? You probably did some research beforehand and listened closely to the salesperson when you went to compare brands. Or perhaps your best friend is telling you about some medical tests he/she recently had done. You listen closely so you can help your friend understand her results and the possible ramifications of the findings. Both of these scenarios are examples of critical listening. Critical listening is listening to evaluate the content of the message. As a critical listener you are listening to all parts of the message, analyzing it, and evaluating what you heard. When engaging in critical listening, you are also critically thinking. You are making mental judgments based on what you see, hear, and read. Your goal as a critical listener is to evaluate the message that is being sent and decide for yourself if the information is valid.