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Listening Knowledge for Day-to-Day Interactions


Listening is a more advanced human activity than hearing because the former requires an effort by the listener to receive information, whereas the latter does not.

When an unexpected visitor presses the doorbell, we may or may not hear it, but when the visitor is expected, we are on the lookout for the bell to ring and, therefore, we listen to it. It is not unlikely that we would hear it when it eventually rings.


Listening skills may be seen as those aspects of our abilities that permit us to attentively receive information. Listening, then, is an active rather than a passive activity.

There is a popular saying (cited on the web pages of the Canadian Student Activity Advisors Association) which pitches listening against talking as follows:

We were given two ears but only one mouth

This is because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking

Though subjective, the statement above underscores the complex nature of listening, implying special skills to cope with it.


Listening can take different forms. It is generally agreed that the four major types of listening are: informative, emphatic, attentive and critical. The fifth type cuts across the other four.

Informative Listening: This is known as inquisitive listening. In case, the listener’s primary concern is to understand the message. A successful informative listener can grasp the message as it was intended by the giver.

Emphatic Listening: It is also known as relationship listening as it emphasizes understanding and sharing the feelings of the other person, the information giver. In this case, the listener demonstrates an emotional participatory attachment to the speaker.

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Therapeutic listening, where medical personnel and other professionals allow a patient to talk through his or her problem, is a good illustrative example of empathic listening.

Attentive Listening: It is known as appreciative listening which puts the disposition of the listener as of prime importance, not the message per se. The success of attentive listening depends on how much enjoyment the listener can derive from it.

Listening to music, an orator or specific radio programmes are good illustrative examples of attentive listening.

Critical Listening: This is known as objective listening. It is the ability to receive information with a grain of salt. This means that critical listening requires the listener to make enough room for objectively receiving the information.

Speaker credibility, logical arguments and psychological appeal are key elements that guide critical listening.

Discriminating Listening: Here is the master key of the other four types of listening. It cuts across the other four listening types in the sense that its main feature, which is grading, is beneficial to all types of listening.

For example, informative listening through the consideration of different shades of the speaker’s delivery rate, volume, voice and emphasis, may detect different shades of meaning, just as empathic listening could be strengthened through sensing the impact of certain responses, such as ‘I see’ or ‘indeed’, etc.

In the sense vein, attentive listening may be enhanced by differences between sounds made by different instruments, just as critical listening may be facilitated in judging, not only the speaker’s message but his or her intentions as well, though sensitivity to pauses and other vocal and non-verbal cues.


Inappropriate receptive poise

An inappropriate receptive poise by the listener is when he or she is not favourably predisposed to listening. This may happen in several ways, which may be broadly divided into physical and mental indisposition.

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A physically or mentally indisposed listener, position himself or herself wrongly as an effective listener.

For example, a member of an audience, who decides to look out through the window to count the number of red cars driving by during a speech, is not likely to benefit from much of the information being provided by the speaker.

That is because the eyes are physically focused away from the message and the mind is busy contemplating other matters, sorting out cars by their colour and then counting them.

Lack of cooperation with the speaker

A listener, who does not cooperate with the speaker, makes the delivery more difficult. How does the good listener cooperate?

Cooperation comes mainly in form of encouragement to go ahead with the information delivery because there are positive signs that what has been delivered so far has been well received and there is room to accommodate further items that may be offered.

Lack of encouragement to forge with information delivery discourages the giver of the information and this may constitute a great barrier to effective listening.

Loss of concentration

When a listener loses his or her concentration on the information that is being provided by the speaker, the reception is likely to be impaired.

For example, when a listener’s mind wanders away from the message being received, the part of the message supplied during a period of inattention liveness would likely be lost.

This may adversely affect what had been received earlier as well as what may be received afterwards. Loss of concentration constitutes a barrier to effective listening.


Living up to expectation

There are specific traits, which characterize a good listener. Therefore, for effective listening, the listener must show evidence that he or she possesses such traits.

When the giver of information perceives such traits in a person, then there is the likelihood that the information flow would be enhanced.

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It is, therefore, not enough to be a good listener; the good listener must be soon to be one. To enhance effective listening, then, the listener must act as a good listener.

Use of other bodily receptors apart from the car

The ears are the primary means through which the human body receives sound impulses.

However, a good listener exploits other bodily receptors to enhance effective listening. For example, looking at the speaker straight in the face, barring cultural peculiarities, maybe a signal to the giver of information that the listener has undivided attention.

Eye contact is an indication of keeping in touch.

Use of non-verbal signals

Effective listening may be enhanced through the use of non-verbal signals. In an attempt to encourage the giver of information, a good listener could use non-verbal signals at his or her disposal.

Take, for instance, the use of a simple smile to indicate reception and approval of a message. This is the type of feedback mechanism that a speaker requires to forge ahead more vigorously with his or her message.

Use of receptive language

In circumstances which permit the receiver of information to react, using language, it is important to consider the appropriateness of the language being used.

In such circumstances, receptive rather than broadcast language is recommended.

Receptive language consists of words and expressions that confirm receipt and acceptance of the message, whereas broadcast language is characterized by a uni-directional flow of information, which is not a response to any stimuli the former is the preferred alternative.

Included in receptive language are expressions such as ‘Really’, ‘Obviously’ … ‘I didn’t know that.

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