Building Communication Skills: 9 Types of Listening

Updated February 3, 2023

Whether you’re networking with colleagues, starting a new job or trying to land a new client, strong listening skills can help you effectively communicate in professional settings. Understanding effective types of listening can help you build your communication skills.

In this article, we explore the different types of listening and ways you can practice effective listening.

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Effective types of listening

Listening is just one type of communication skill. But you can benefit greatly from learning about the different types of listening, all of which are important to understand both in personal relationships and at work. Here are the types of listening you may experience and practice in the workplace:

  • Comprehensive listening

  • Discriminative listening

  • Critical listening

  • Full listening

  • Deep listening

Comprehensive listening

Comprehensive listening is when you make judgments based on what the other person says and determine the truthfulness of the statements you hear. Also known as critical listening or evaluative listening, you may also judge what the person says compared to what your values are and decide if they’re good or bad.

In this type of conversation, you might discriminate between distinctions and try to grasp the inner meaning of what the person said to see what their argument’s advantages and disadvantages are. 

Discriminative listening

This type of listening involves identifying the difference between tones and sounds to figure out how these differences may affect the entire meaning of a sentence. Discriminative listening enables us to pick up on verbal cues that indicate what the speaker is truly saying or what emotions they are trying to express. When others can hear subtleties when it comes to emotional variation in your voice, they may be able to distinguish what emotions you are going through.

Critical listening

Critical listening is an important type of listening because it requires you to listen to a message and assess whether the message and the speaker are trustworthy. It can also enable you to take the message presented to them, compare it to the knowledge you may already have on the subject and form your own analysis and opinion on the message. This type of listening enables professionals to conduct brainstorming sessions, create new solutions and debate strategies.

Therapeutic listening

This type of listening is when you let a troubled person discuss their problems. While medical personnel, counselors and other types of professionals often employ this type, other professionals may use it when listening to acquaintances or friends to let them express their emotions or get advice. It is an especially effective skill to have when building rapport with coworkers and potential clients. 

While this type of listening makes it mandatory to listen for information, the main point of it is to emphasize that you understand the person you’re talking to. Behaviors that are commonly found with this are:

  • Attending is a behavior that includes non-verbal cues that demonstrate how interested you are in what the speaker is saying. Certain body language cues, such as keeping your arms uncrossed and your body pointed toward the speaker, can show you have the speaker’s attention. For example, if a coworker is giving a presentation, you can use eye contact and nod to show that you’re listening intently.

  • Empathizing is a type of listening where you think and feel what another person does. Someone with more experience in certain or similar areas of life may be more emphatic, but this type of listening allows you to learn more about a person’s experience and perspective regardless of how similar it is to your own. For example, if a customer expresses their frustration with a product, you can use empathy to understand that their expectations were not met and determine how you might feel in their position.

Full listening

When you pay careful attention to what the other person is saying, it is called full listening. This type of listening is where you aim to fully understand what the content of the conversation is. You may pause and then summarize what you just heard or use paraphrasing where you say back to the person what you just heard to see if it’s correct. When the conversation is over, the speaker and you may agree that you do have a full understanding of the conversation. This type of listening is a useful skill to have when trying to understand a lecture or presentation.

Deep listening

Deep listening is more involved than full listening. Deep listening requires you and the other speaker to understand each other’s sides. You must carefully pay attention to the details of a conversation and pick up on many cues. These cues can include watching body language, identifying biases and preferences, figuring out goals and needs and perceiving values and beliefs.

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Ineffective types of listening

You can avoid the following types of ineffective listening by employing active listening—when someone gives their full attention to the speaker and waits until they’ve finished to think of a response.

Selective listening

This type is when you only address certain aspects of what the other person has said to filter the message to more quickly understand its intent. This type of listening may impact your ability to understand every detail, which may lead to miscommunications. 

Partial listening

Partial listening is when you have the intention to listen to another person but are distracted. This keeps you from hearing the other person completely. Stray thoughts might have gotten in the way, or you heard something the other person said and began a response in your mind. This type of listening may be interpreted as false listening or impact a person’s ability to fully and accurately answer a question or follow instructions.

False listening

False listening is when you pretend you are listening to the other person but are not really comprehending what you are hearing. These listeners may show they understand by smiling, nodding and grunting when they think it is appropriate. This type of listening may impact your ability to be effective in your job.

Listening can come in many forms. Each situation will likely require a different type of listening, but it’s important to be aware of what type you’re doing. Focus on improving your comprehensive, relationship, full and deep listening skills to become a more effective employee and coworker.

Nonverbal communication is one of many tools that can help you make a good impression in interviews and in your professional life. However, candidate assessments should be based on skills and qualifications, and workplaces should strive to be inclusive and understanding of individual differences in communication styles.

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