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Listening | Listening Process | Levels | Types

Listening | Listening Process | Levels | Types

We spend more time listening than we spend on any other method of communicating. College students averaged 53 percent of their waking hours listening. Of the four communicating behaviors—speaking, writing, listening, and reading—listening was second only to reading as the least arousing of the four activities. Listening is like physical fitness or wearing seat belts. Everybody knows it is desirable but finds it difficult to do regularly. Most of us are unable to give close attention to what’s being said for more than sixty seconds at a time.

Listening is an active pursuit. It’s demanding hard work. Most of all, when someone is truly listening, it takes time away from the listener’s most important focus—himself. Listening goes beyond hearing. It involves making a conscious effort to hear, to give heed, take advice.

Listening is the process by which spoken language is converted to meaning in the mind. Applying listening to business it is the conscious, active process of eliciting information, ideas, attitudes, and emotions in interpersonal, oral exchange for the purpose of increasingto increase the listener’s capacity or planning and decision-making. Involving your listeners in what you have to say is the key to effective communication. The speaker and the listeners are interrelated. An effective listener therefore must assume some of the responsibility for effective communication. Good listeners become good communicators, and skillful listeners learn from others. Good listeners exert a positive effect on a speaker, helping to improve the speaker’s effectiveness.


When listening is mentioned, we think primarily of the act of sensing sounds. In human communication, of course, the sounds are mainly spoken words. Listening perceives sounds from the speaker, attaching meaning to the words, and designing an appropriate response, which involves remembering what the speaker has said long enough to interpret what is meant. Listening involves grasping what the speaker means by seeing the ideas and information from his/her point of view. 

Listening is an active search for meaning. In listening, two people are thinking, the sender and the receiver. Truly effective communication can’t be a monologue in which only the sender is at work. To persuade, inform, or change the listener, both parties—the speaker and the receiver (be it one or many)—must be actively involved. So true communication must be a dialogue, an exchange between you and your receiver. Two (or more) people actively engaged in the same period. 

The Process of Listening

Listening | Listening Process | Levels | Types

1. Receiving/Hearing

The first element in the listening process is hearing, which is the automatic psychological process of receiving aural stimuli. Sound waves are received by the ear and stimulate neurological impulses to the brain. We place these sounds in a meaningful order or sequence so that they may be recognized as words. We recognize words in a pattern that constitutes a language, which then helps to convey the message from the communicator to us.

Another factor in hearing is the speaker’s rate. The average speaker’s rate is between 100 to 150 words per minute. However, most of us can comprehend rates up to 400 to 500 words per minute.

Difference Between Hearing And Listening

Hearing is something that just happens when you open your ears or when you get within earshot of some auditory stimuli.

Unlike listening, the hearing begins and ends with this first stage of receiving. Listening begins (but does not end) with receiving the messages the speaker sends. The messages are both verbal and nonverbal.

The English language retains two words that depict a similar auditory function: hearing and listening. Hearing is the faculty of perceiving sounds. It is believed to be the first active sensory organ in human beings, even before birth: it has been established that babies in the womb hear external sounds as early as the fifth month. Interestingly enough, hearing seems to be the last sense to cease its activity before death, and there are many examples of dying people who although cannot speak or see anymore, can still hear what is being said to, or around, them. The fact that hearing is the first and last of our senses may induce us to ask ourselves whether there is a specific reason why this is so. Indeed, it would seem rather logical to interpret this as a natural circumstance that must have some significance for our cognitive system.

The fact that we are hearing does not necessarily imply that we are listening. If hearing may be defined as the physiological function of our auditory sense, e.g. that we all have the possibility of physically detecting the sounds of our environment, listening may be depicted as the psychological attribute which is in action when we want to discern the sounds heard. Listening is, therefore, hearing the sounds of our environment and responding to them actively. 

For this reason, the definition of ‘Listening Skills’ implies a cognitive approach to all the kinds of sounds we hear in our daily surroundings. As we become increasingly familiar with the notion that listening, unlike hearing, implies an active response to the sounds we hear around us, a new cognitive dimension opens up for us. We may begin to realize the importance of such a skill in everyday life and the need to find new ways to promote it effectively. Furthermore, by extending this awareness towards all auditory sources in our environments an authentic revelation may take place in our life. Our cities, fields, woods are an immense source of all possible kinds of sounds, most of which we have never discerned before.

2. Filtering

Filtering is the process of giving symbols meanings through the unique contents of each person’s mind.

3. Understanding

Understanding is the stage at which you learn what the speaker means.

4. Remembering

Messages that you receive and understand need to be retained for at least some period. What you remember is actually not what was said, but what you think (or remember) was said. Speech memory is not reproductive. Rather, memory is reconstructive.

5. Evaluating

Evaluating consists of judging the messages in some way. At times you may try to evaluate the speakers’ underlying intent. Often this evaluation process goes on without much conscious thought. Evaluation is more like critical analysis.

6. Responding

Responding occurs in two phases:

  • Responses you make while the speaker is talking.
  • Responses you make after the speaker has stopped talking.

These responses are feedback. E.g. “I see”, “yes”, “uh-huh” etc.

Levels of Listening

1. Active Listening

Active listening is a special kind of listening. It is a process of sending back to the speaker what you as a listener think the speaker meant—both in content and in feelings.

Active listening is less common but more beneficial and to get good grades, you have to be able to really listen to what is being said in the classroom. The most practical reason for a college student to improve listening skills is that good listener are not only better students, but they also spend less time on their studies and enjoy them more than do students who are poor listeners. Students who are attentive in class and attend class regularly are far more likely to receive higher grades and to learn more.

Characteristics of Active Listeners

  • Active listeners are willing to give the speaker a chance to develop his or her ideas.
  • Active listeners are open-minded about people who look or sound different from themselves.
  • Active listeners can follow several methods of organization—even poorly organized material will be listened to with some degree of tolerance.
  • Active listeners are likely to listen even more attentively when the material becomes difficult. It becomes a challenge to them.

2. Protective Listening

Listeners may not listen to a speaker because they have learned to tune out certain kinds of stimuli. Listeners become speakers, and speakers become listeners and the sequence goes on. As a listener, you will sometimes hear negative and even hostile expressions aimed directly at you. While no one really likes to be subjected to hostile remarks, you have to control protective listening so verbal attacks are perceived without your having to defend or retaliate.

3. Partial Listening

Listening must be a complete process where all the communicative stimuli transmitted by the speaker are acknowledged and evaluated. Responding to some of the stimuli while ignoring others will make a listener miss important facts and points that are needed for clarity and understanding.

A speaker’s voice, mannerism, grammar, and pitch will increase or decrease the listener’s tendency for partial listening. As a listener and a positive speaker, you should consciously control the urge for partial listening. This will help create an environment that produces greater understanding, and, in turn, more effective oral communication.

4. Preferential Listening

Listening to that is directly affected by a person’s beliefs, interests, or emotions is preferential listening. Just as people may see what they expect to see, listeners may listen for what they want to hear. Personal background, experiences, habits, and family traditions will many times change or distort the speaker’s intended meaning into what the listener really wants to hear. Miscommunication is usually the result of preferential listening.

Types of Listening

1. Critical Listening

Critical listening is usually needed when we suspect that we may be listening to a biased source of information. Critical listening is also associated with being able to detect propaganda devices employed by a communicator.

In adjusting your critical listening, focus on the following guidelines:

  1. Keep an open mind.
  2. Avoid filtering out difficult messages.
  3. Recognize your own biases.
  4. Avoid uncritical listening when you need to make evaluations and judgments.
  5. Recognize and combat the normal tendency to sharpen.
  6. Analyze the audience and adapt the message to the listeners.
  7. Clearly organize the speech so that the listeners can follow the train of thought.
  8. What is the speaker’s purpose? What does the speaker want from the audience? Is the overall, general purpose to inform or to persuade?
  9. An intelligent, active listener is aware of the many possible meanings of words and attempts to place those words in the correct context.
  10. Can the speech survive tests of evidence and reasoning? Are the main points supported by relevant facts and opinions? Has the speaker reasoned clearly and logically?
  11. Does the speaker seem to know or care about what he or she is saying?
  12. Are the speakers’ verbal and nonverbal messages consistent? Do the nonverbal messages reinforce the speakers’ thesis?
  13. Does the speaker establish his or her credibility and behave in ways that enhance credibility?
  14. Is the material presented relevant? Is there a point to the speech? (Or do you, the critical listener, feel like saying “So what?” at the end?

What is your overall impression of the speech?

2. Empathic Listening

As the term suggests, the listener tries to demonstrate empathy for the speaker. It can also be described as listening “between the lines”. When we listen between the lines we heighten our awareness and interpersonal sensitivity to the entire message a person may be trying to communicate.

Empathy is perception and communication by resonance, be identification, by experiencing in ourselves some reflection of the emotional tone that is being experienced by the other person. Empathic listening serves as a reward or encouragement to the speaker. It communicates your caring and acceptance and reaffirms the person’s sense of worth. This style of listening seems to be most important in terms of strengthening or improving a positive interpersonal relationship between the parties involved.

Empathic listening often requires the opposite frame of mind from that required for critical listening. Empathic listening implies a willingness not to judge, evaluate, or criticize but rather to be an accepting, permissive, and understanding listener.

Becoming empathic requires focusing on the following guidelines:

  1. A greater emphasis on listening than on talking.
  2. Responding to that which is personal rather than abstract.
  3. Following the other, in his exploration rather than leading him into areas we think he should be exploring.
  4. Clarifying what the other person has said about his own thoughts and feelings rather than asking questions or telling him what we believe he should be thinking, seeing, or feeling.
  5. Responding to the feelings implicit in what the other has said rather than the assumptions or “content” that he has talked about.
  6. Trying to get into the other person’s inner frame of reference rather than listening and responding from our own frame of reference.
  7. The speaker is more apt to keep talking (vs. defending, blaming, shutting down, or withdrawing). This can build trust, intimacy, and relationships, over time.
  8. Listen respectfully.
  9. Minimize misunderstandings.
  10. Recognize and identify emotions.

Are you an active listener?

Listening | Listening Process | Levels | Types
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