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7.2: Listening Types and Habits

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    • Demonstrate an understanding of different listening types.
    • Be able to distinguish between several different listening habits.


    Now that you are becoming more confident in your ability to define listening in your own terms and have a deeper understanding of the listening process, you might be asking yourself, what is all the hype about listening? In this Module, first, you will learn about several different types of listening. Second, you will also learn about different listening habits.

    Listening Types

    Given the many different kinds of relationships, you might have noticed that you listen to different people in different ways and for different reasons. For instance, you may find it easier to listen to your grandmother than to your younger brother. You may be able to pay attention to your professor’s lecture for 50 minutes, but listening to your co-worker’s five-minute presentation makes you incredibly sleepy. If you can relate to at least one of these scenarios, then you may have already started to suspect that there isn’t just one way to listen. Just to be clear, in this Module, an interpersonal relationship refers to the association, connection, interaction and bond between two or more people.

    There are many different types of listening. By some accounts, there are at least 18 different types of listening (See Table 1 in Appendices). If you are motivated and interested in listening to another person then that type of listening is important at that moment. For readers being introduced to interpersonal communication for the first time, that type of listening is most likely called interpersonal listening. “Interpersonal listening is listening that occurs between people; it occurs in both informal and formal contexts” (Wolvin, 2017, p. 4). Another term similar to interpersonal listening is relationally oriented listening. “Relationally oriented listening is the dynamic, interdependent, and uniquely human process of signaling attention, affection, empathy, understanding and responsiveness through a vast repertoire of specific behaviors (Beard & Bodie, 2014; Bodie, 2010, 2011b, 2012a)” (Bodie & Denham, 2017, p. 46). Listening is a social and contextual act. The various types of listening can be categorized based on the listeners’ goals which can enhance or impede effective listening.

    Many of today’s well-known listening standard books were published in the 1980s, like Listening (1996, 1985) by Andrew Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley. A major part of that book is about developing purposeful listening skills with a “taxonomy of listening that describes how listeners function at various listening purposes or levels” (1996, p. 151). For the purposes of this section, Wolvin and Coakley’s five listening types will be covered: discriminative listening, comprehensive listening, critical listening, appreciative listening and therapeutic listening. These five listening types were selected because they all provide an important framework in the listening process and they have stood the test of time, as scholars have not been able to add on to them.

    Discriminative listening

    Discriminative listening is listening to distinguish aural and sometimes visual stimuli (Wolvin and Coakley, 1996). This most basic type of listening helps you determine what sound is coming from where or who is making the sound. If you cannot hear differences, then you cannot make sense of the meaning that is expressed by such differences. We learn to discriminate between sounds within our own language early, and later are unable to discriminate between the phonemes of other languages. The importance of using this listening type in an interpersonal relationship is because you actively determine which auditory sounds to listen to and filter out all the other sounds that are not important to you.

    Suppose April and her older brother Ed are having lunch at a bar-and-grill type restaurant, which gets rather loud especially during “happy hour”. Although the two of them are seated inside at a booth and across from one another, April uses discriminative listening to focus on what her brother is talking about instead of the other noises, sounds, music or even other people talking in the background.

    Comprehensive listening

    Comprehensive listening (also known as content listening, informative listening and full listening) builds on discriminative listening and involves comprehending the speaker’s message based on a number of different features such as vocabulary, language skill, one’s perception, and nonverbal cues. In comprehensive listening we strive for a level of listening fidelity that will allow us to assign meanings to a message. If you are getting directions, watching the news, listening to a lecture, you are listening to understand or listening to comprehend the message that is being sent. The importance of using this type of listening type in an interpersonal relationship is fundamental. Misunderstandings in relationships are caused by one or both partners who did not fully comprehend a message.

    Going back to the original scenario, suppose after several glasses of water, April wants to get to the restroom quickly but isn’t certain of the exact location. When the waiter comes to the table to drop off the bill, April asks for directions. The waiter explains that the restrooms are downstairs, past the pool tables and emphasizes that the hallway on the right leads to the “ladies” room while the hallway on the left leads to the “gentlemen’s” room. April uses comprehensive listening to get to the restroom.

    Critical listening

    Critical listening analyzes and evaluates the accuracy, legitimacy and value of a 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. Critical listening plays an important role in everyday life decision-making.

    In another scenario, suppose that Sofía is an undecided democratic voter in an up-coming United States (U.S.) primary election. Although the presidential election is still months away, she watches and listens to several presidential candidates on television debate each other on issues ranging from economic inequality, gun control, voter suppression, health care coverage to immigration policies. Sofía uses critical listening to evaluate each candidates’ responses to help her decide who she will vote for in the next U.S. presidential election.

    Appreciative listening

    Appreciative listening is “listening for sensory stimulation or enjoyment” (Wolvin & Coakley, 1996, p. 363). This type of listening in interpersonal relationships becomes important when you become aware that you will need to suspend critical thoughts and instead listen. When you listen to someone and appreciate what they have to say without being critical it can have a profoundly positive impact on the relationship. We also can listen appreciatively to music and nature, among other sounds.

    Here is another scenario: in school, Ashton interacts with a variety of people many of which are international students. Presentational speaking class in particular affords him with opportunities to use appreciative listening. During speeches, Ashton appreciates and values the wide range of accents, inflections and cadence offered by his classmates.

    Therapeutic listening

    Therapeutic listening, also referred to as empathic listening (Myers, 2000), is a way of listening and responding to another person when you are trying to understand the others point of view. This type of listening is most appropriate where the listener conveys their support and concern for the speakers’ emotional well-being without giving advice or trying to fix anything.

    Although sympathetic and empathetic listening are closely related. They are different. In Brené Brown’s (2013) animated Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA) Short, on Empathy she explains the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy = "I see your pain". Empathy = "I feel your pain". Empathetic listening is really about the listeners’ ability to feel “with” while sympathetic listening is really about the listener’s ability to feel “for” the speaker. Empathy is important in listening in that the listener seeks to relate to the speaker beyond the words.

    Scenario: Carlos and Sylvia have been married for nearly 35 years. Over time, Carlos has started to lose his hearing which secretly frustrates him because he hasn’t been able to notice when his wife is trying to get his attention. Although he is contemplating getting a hearing aid, he does not want to admit that he could use the assistance of this kind of device. Finally, Carlos finally shares with Sylvia what has been bothering him. Sylvia uses therapeutic listening as her husband talks about not only his frustrations about getting older but also his reservations about getting a hearing aid.

    Indeed, these are only five of many different listening types. You may start using one, shift to another and even use three of four different types of listening with a single speaker. There are, of course, many others you can use depending upon a variety of factors. In additional to know about various listening types you will also want to become familiar with different listening habits.

    Listening Habits

    Make a list of at least five things off the top of your head that you can think of that would annoy or irritate you if someone were doing them while you were speaking. Chances are your list would include examples such as: interrupting, finishing the thoughts of or suggesting words for the speaker, doodling, drawing, pen-tapping, fidgeting, changing the topic, checking your cell phone. When it comes to listening, “each person listens to and for different types of information based partially on the routines they have established by listening in particular ways (i.e., listening habit” (Bodie, Winter, Dupuis & Tompkins, 2019, p. 3). In this section, we are going to examine four primary listening habits, specifically analytical listening, conceptual listening, connective listening, and reflective listening which represent how people come to understand the content and relational meaning of messages. The more you know about listening habits the more likely you are to identify how you process information.

    Everyone interprets messages differently based on their prior experience, knowledge and values. It should come as no surprise that our everyday conversations sometimes result in misunderstandings. Some of these misunderstandings derive from a habitual listening orientation. Based on the ECHO (Effective Communication for Healthy Organizations) Listening Profile, a 10 question, statistically validated survey that identifies listening habits as a brain-based cognitive function, people have four primary listening habits. The first two listening habits (analytical listening, conceptual listening) deal primarily with how people tend to focus on different aspects of a speaker’s message. Analytical listening focuses on what the interaction means to an issue or objective situations and filters what is heard through an interest in results and facts. Conceptual listening focuses on the big picture and ideas, often abstract, and filters what is heard through an interest in concepts and possibilities. The second two listening habits (connective listening, and reflective listening) deal primarily with how people construct relational meaning from messages. Connective listening focuses on what the interaction means for others and filters what is heard through interests in other people, groups, processes, and audiences. Reflective listening focuses on what the interaction means for them and filters what is heard through their own interests and purposes.

    Each of these four listening habits have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you were to score high on the ECHO Listening Profile as a connective listener you listen to offer encouragement and support and nod approvingly which adds value to the speaker and reinforces their ideas. On the other hand, as a connective listener you may find yourself inadvertently agreeing with the speaker and dismiss listening for facts/data. The ECHO Listening Profile does not rate whether you are a “good” or “bad” listener. It is however, one of two valid listening assessment tools (also see LSP-R; Bodie et al., 2013) that establishes a listening habit and does not advocate for an “ideal” profile but rather “all people hold some level of each of these filters in their cognitive system even if these filters are more prominent in some people in some contexts, compared to others” (Bodie et al., 2019, p. 22). The point being made here is that we all habitually listen to and for certain types of information, while filtering out other types of information. And, since listening is a cognitive habit, we tend to listen the same way through our dominant habit and our listening blind spots are the habits we’re not using. So, we all miss something. But, we can learn to listen through our non-dominant habits because we have the control of our cognitive processes.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Four Listening Habits

    Source. Adapted from Dupuis, D. & Winter, J. (2019). Sample ECHO Profile Report: The four listening habits [PDF File]. Used with permission.


    In this Module, we first examined five types of listening. Next, we addressed four listening habits that individuals use to filter and interpret what they hear, and how that interpretation affects our ability to listen. There are several key takeaways from this Module. There are many different listening types (e.g., interpersonal, relationally oriented, discriminative, comprehensive, critical, appreciative and therapeutic listening). Regardless of the relationship, everyone falls into listening habits and listens to different auditory stimuli for a variety of reasons.


    1. Activity: Are You a Good Listener?

    Are you a good listener? Find out by completing one of five free listening assessments from the list below:

    Listening Models/Assessment Instruments:

    • The Listening Concepts Inventory (Imhof & Janusik, 2006)
    • Active Empathic Listening Scale (Bodie, 2011)
    • Metacognitive Listening Strategies Instrument (Janusik & Keaton, 2011)
    • The Revised Listening Styles Profile (Bodie, Worthington & Gearhart, 2013)
    • The Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity Test, (Rosenthal, Hall, DiMatteo, Rogers & Archer, 2013)

    2. Activity: Listening Habits

    What are good listening habits? What are bad listening habits? In order to identify “good” and “bad” listening habits have student work in small groups, generate a list of Ineffective Listening Habits and Effective Listening Habits. Compare and discuss what is on each list. Keep in mind that culture plays a role here too. Being able to identify ineffective and effective listening habits will help your awareness of what to do and not to do in your interpersonal relationships.


    e.g., Stare without expression, fakes attention e.g., Ask questions, “Tell me more . . . “


    Beard, D., & Bodie, G. (2014). Listening research in the communication discipline. In P.J. Gehrke & W.M. Keith (Eds.), A century of communication studies: An unfinished conversation, (pp. 219-245). Routledge.

    Bodie, G. D. (2010). Treating listening ethically. International Journal of Listening, 24(3), 185-188.

    Bodie, G. D. (2011a). The Revised Listening Concepts Inventory (LCI-R): Assessing individual and situational differences in the conceptualization of listening. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 30(3), 301-339.

    Bodie, G. D. (2011b). The understudied nature of listening in interpersonal communication: Introduction to a special issue. International Journal of Listening, 25(1-2), 1-9.

    Bodie, G. D. (2012). Listening as positive communication. In T. Socha & M.J. Pitts (Eds.), The positive side of interpersonal communication (language as social action) (pp. 109-125). Peter Lang Inc.

    Bodie, G.D. & Denham, J. (2017). Listening in(to) close relationships. In M.M. Stoltz (Ed.), Listening Across Lives (pp. 41-61). Kendall Hunt.

    Bodie, G. D., & Villaume, W. A. (2003). Aspects of receiving information: The relationship between listening preferences, communication apprehension, receiver apprehension, and communicator style. International Journal of Listening, 17(1), 47-67.

    Bodie, G. D., & Worthington, D. L. (2010). Revisiting the Listening Styles Profile.(LSP-16): A confirmatory factor analytic approach to scale validation and reliability estimation. International Journal of Listening, 24(2), 69-88.

    Bodie, G. D., Winter, J., Dupuis, D., & Tompkins, T. (2019). The Echo Listening Profile: Initial Validity Evidence for a Measure of Four Listening Habits. International Journal of Listening, 1-25.

    Bodie, G. D., Worthington, D. L., Gearhart, C. C., & Denham, J. P. (2013). The revised listening styles profile (LSP-R): Development and validation. Communication Quarterly, 61, 72-90.

    Brown, B. (2013, December 10). Brené Brown on Empathy. Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Retrieved from

    Headlee, C. (2015, May). Ways to have a better conversation [Video]. TED Conferences.

    Imhof, M. (1998). What makes a good listener? Listening behavior in instructional settings. International Journal of Listening, 12, 82-105.

    Imhof, M. (2008). What have you listened to in school today? International Journal of Listening, 22(1), 1-12.

    Imhof, M., & Janusik, L. A. (2006). Development and validation of the Imhof-Janusik Listening Concepts Inventory to measure listening conceptualization differences between cultures. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 35(2), 79-98.

    Janusik, L., & Keaton, S. A. (2011). Listening metacognitions: Another key to teaching listening. Listening Education, 3(2), 35-44.

    Johnston, M. K., Weaver III, J. B., Watson, K. W., & Barker, L. B. (2000). Listening styles: Biological or psychological differences?. International Journal of Listening, 14(1), 32-46.

    Mulanax, A., & Powers, W. G. (2001). Listening fidelity development and relationship to receiver apprehension and locus of control. International Journal of Listening, 15(1), 69-78.

    Myers, S. (2000). Empathic listening: Reports on the experience of being heard. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 40(2), 148-173.

    Rosenthal, R., Hall, J. A., DiMatteo, M. R., Rogers, P. L., & Archer, D. (2011). Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity (PONS test): Manual. Unpublished manuscript available from JA Hall, Northeastern University, Boston, MA.

    Wolvin, A.D. (2017). Contextualizing listening. In M.M. Stoltz, K.P. Sodowsky & C.M. Coates (Eds.), Listening Across Lives (pp. 1-14). Kendall Hunt.

    Wolvin, A. D., & Coakley, C. G. (1985). Listening. Wm. C. Brown Publishers.

    Wolvin, A. D., & Coakley, C. G. (1996). Listening (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill.

    Worthington, D. L. (2003). Exploring the relationship between listening style preference and personality. International Journal of Listening, 17(1), 68-87.

    Worthington, D. L., & Fitch-Hauser, M. E. (2018). Listening: Processes, functions, and competency. Routledge.


    Analytical listening: A listening habit where the listener tends to focus on what the interaction means to an issue or objective situations and filters what is heard through an interest in results and facts.

    Appreciative listening: Listening to enjoy or to gain enjoyment.

    Comprehensive listening: Listening to understand information.

    Conceptual listening: A listening habit where the listener tends to focus on the big picture and ideas, often abstract and filters what is heard through an interest in concepts and possibilities.

    Connective listening: A listening habit where the listener tends to focus on what the interaction means for others and filters what is heard through interests in other people groups, processes, and audiences.

    Critical listening: Listening to evaluate or judge what is being said.

    Discriminative listening: Involves distinguishing the auditory and/or visual sounds.

    Intrapersonal listening: Informally termed “self-talk” the listener is cognizant of their inner thoughts, monologue.

    Interpersonal listening (also relational Listening): A listening style where the listener makes an active attempt to understand and attend to the speaker’s message. In relational listening when tend to focus on the content of the conversation and the emotional feelings expressed by the speaker.

    Reflective listening: A listening habit where the listener tends to focus on what the interaction means for them and filters what is heard through their own interests and purposes.

    Therapeutic/empathic listening: Paying attention to the other person with emotional identification (empathy), compassion, feeling, insight, etc.


    1. Pseudo/False Listening: When You’re Not Listening

    Most of us have had an experience with a friend or family member where they have been sharing what to them seems like a fascinating story but the problem is it’s exhausting to listen to them rant on and on. Usually we are polite and pretend to listen. Here is a clip that we can all relate to. Use this video to spark a discussion about a time when you used pseudo/false listening.

    2. Listening Styles: Rainbow Needs to Listen Better

    Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) isn't sure what Zoey's (Yara Shahidi) personal drama is all about, so Bow tries to bluff her way through the conversation by stuffing food in her mouth. From Episode 2 of Black-ish Season 1, "The Talk." ABC Wednesdays 9:30|8:30c. In this situation, what listening style might be the most effective in this situation? What listening style might be the most ineffective in this situation?

    Here is the link:

    3. Listening Types: Everybody Loves Raymond Uses Active Listening

    In this episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray uses the Active Listening skills that he learned in "Parent Effectiveness Training" workshop. Do you think he was effective? What other types of listening might have worked in this situation?

    The link is here:

    This page titled 7.2: Listening Types and Habits is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Daniel Usera & contributing authors.

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