This unit talks about the types of listening

Audience Listening Interpretation Techniques

The audience mind can be turned on by a good speech, like turning on a light, and the public speaking audience consists of the people who share in or participate in the experience or encounter of the presentation put on by a presenter. Your public speaking audience can better be served if you know a few basic things about them and how they can interpret the information they hear. Listening is more than the sum of its parts, and there are various kinds of listening techniques that the audience may employ at any given time they are listening. They could be engaged in the following way:

Listening for information

Information could include facts, figures, details, knowledge, instruction, advice, guidance, direction, counsel, enlightenment, news words, thought content or knowledge. Informational Listening can be to understand or to learn.

Listening for Emotional Content

Emotional content is the underlying feelings that are based on emotion rather than reason. It can also include things like the tone of voice, gestures, body language and micro-expressions. Is the person happy and satisfied or dispirited or dejected? Is there anger or pleasantness noted in the effect? Or does the speaker manifest proud or humble emotions?

Listening for the Unspoken

Listening for what is unsaid, what is implied but not stated, inhibited from being said or what may really be meant.

Listening for Entertainment

Sometimes we like to listen to music, poetry readings and other forms of entertainment.

Critical or Evaluative Listening

Here, we listen to some pieces of information, and then use what we have heard to make personal decisions in our lives.

Listening Styles

Speech mastery in public speaking requires understanding the Listening Style of the audience. In addition to the various types of listening public speakers concern themselves with, of greater interest should be the way the audience listens.

Listening style can be categorized into four different classifications. The 1984 book Whole Brain Thinking reported on a 20 year research project by Dr. David Merrill and Dr. Roger Reid on how the mind works. Their findings demonstrated that an effective speaker must be aware of at least 4 different styles of listeners. To reach each different type of listening requires speaking to meet the unique personality or psychological needs of an audience. This is a very basic look of the makeup of an audience that would be listening to public speaking. When we speak, to feel as though you are connected and to be able to say the audience is listening is an understatement. More importantly, how are they listening? What is the style of listening used by each individual in the audience? What is the psychology of listening?

Listening Style: Four Types


Analytical listeners will have puzzled looks while listening. They will be questioning, thoughtful and sceptical during the talk. Body language will include rubbing chin and or brow. They will be evaluating and critiquing the information and delivery.

If you are new to public speaking, these are the listeners to get your critique from. You also need to give them things to analyse without boring everyone else.


‘Driver’ listeners are the result – oriented men and women of action. They are also impatient. They will be the ones usually sitting at the front of the audience. They ask, “How can I use this information now.” “How is this practical?” They do not need to know when or why if these are self evident. To them, the information application is self evident. Their need is for what, and how that is new. Their listening style is, “Get to the point.” Great public speaking requires meeting their need while not leaving everyone else behind.


These are the audiences that care for you as the speaker. They also care for the audience. Those new to public speaking will enjoy the kudos they receive from this group. They usually will not give the critical assessment that will help you attain Speech mastery.

Consider an example of public speaking to this group and really connecting to them.

Imagine a speaker stopping, shuffling his notes as though he lost something he wanted to say. He then looks down at the floor as if it may have fell. How do you feel? What thoughts would go through your mind? When seeing this happen to a speaker, my heart sunk. Then the speaker reaching into his pocket pulled out a piece of paper with this ah-ha look on his face. He proceeded to explain he was demonstrating the quality of empathy. It was an exceptional illustration. Unfortunately, he was only speaking to part of the audience.

He was speaking to those who would be concerned with his plight. Others may have been thinking he should have been better prepared. The amiable listener may look concerned and even worried if someone is ignored, or smile to encourage you, the speaker, or even others.


This group of listeners like to be involved and be a part of what is going on. The expressive like involvement. This listener will become easily bored with technical data. They will become fidgety or a class clown. The research found they will often be intuitive.

Those with this listening style will really appreciate audience participation. The most basic way to involve an audience in public speaking is to ask for a show of hands with a question you know will have many responses. If you can and do, this will enable you to connect to those with this listening style.

Reach All In Your Audience

To reach all four audiences and hold their attention, when public speaking requires balancing many elements of speaking, they need enough data to please the analytical listener without boring the expressive. The programme needs to move along for the goal oriented driver. Openness, comfort and empathy are needed to satisfy the amiable personality. Many public speaking books will say all audiences are basically the same. You will find in your experience and based on this science, on at least a few levels, this is not true. Learn to reach out to each of the several types of listening styles when you are engaged in public speaking. Learn to meet the demands of each individual listening style. If you master putting all four listening styles together to best serve your audience, you will not only attain speech mastery, you will gain power over your audience.

Types of Listening

Here are six types of listening, starting with basic discrimination of sounds and ending in deep communication.

Discriminative listening

Discriminative listening is the most basic type of listening, whereby the difference between different sounds is identified. 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. This is one reason why a person from one country finds it difficult to speak another language perfectly, as they are unable to distinguish the subtle sounds that are required in that language.

Likewise, a person who cannot hear the subtleties of emotional variation in another person’s voice will be less likely to be able to discern the emotions the other person is experiencing.

Listening is a visual as well as auditory act, as we communicate much through body language. We thus also need to be able to discriminate between muscle and skeletal movements that signify different meanings.

Comprehension listening

The next step beyond discriminating between different sounds and sights is to make sense of them. To comprehend the meaning requires first having a lexicon of words at our fingertips and also all rules of grammar and syntax by which we can understand what others are saying.

The same is true, of course, for the visual components of communication, and an understanding of body language helps us understand what the other person really means.

In communication, some words are more important and some less so, and comprehension often benefits from extraction of key facts and items from a long spiel.

Comprehension listening is also known as content listening, informative listening and full listening.

Critical listening

Critical listening is listening in order to evaluate and judge, forming opinion about what is being said. Judgment includes assessing strengths and weaknesses, agreement and approval.

This form of listening requires significant real-time cognitive effort as the listener analyzes what is being said, relating it to existing knowledge and rules, whilst simultaneously listening to the ongoing words from the speaker.

Biased listening

Biased listening happens when the person hears only what they want to hear, typically misinterpreting what the other person says based on the

stereotypes and other biases that they have. Such biased listening is often very evaluative in nature.

Evaluative listening

In evaluative listening, or critical listening, we make judgments about what the other person is saying. We seek to assess the truth of what is being said. We also judge what they say against our values, assessing them as good or bad, worthy or unworthy.

Evaluative listening is particularly pertinent when the other person is trying to persuade us, perhaps to change our behaviour and, maybe, even to change our beliefs. Within this, we also discriminate between subtleties of language and comprehend the inner meaning of what is said. Typically also we weigh up the pros and cons of an argument, determining whether it makes sense logically as well as whether it is helpful to us.

Evaluative listening is also called critical, judgmental or interpretive listening.

Appreciative listening

In appreciative listening, we seek certain information which we will appreciate. For example, that which helps meet our needs and goals. We use appreciative listening when we are listening to good music, poetry or maybe even the stirring words of a great leader.

Sympathetic listening

In sympathetic listening we care about the other person and show this concern in the way we pay close attention and express our sorrow for their ills and happiness at their joy.

Empathetic listening

When we listen empathetically, we go beyond sympathy to seek a truer understand how others are feeling. This requires excellent discrimination and close attention to the nuances of emotional signals. When we are being truly empathetic, we actually feel what they are feeling.

In order to get others to expose these deep parts of themselves to us, we also need to demonstrate our empathy in our demeanour towards them, asking sensitively and in a way that encourages self-disclosure.

Therapeutic listening

In therapeutic listening, the listener has a purpose of not only empathizing with the speaker but also to use this deep connection in order to help the speaker understand, change or develop in some way.

This not only happens when you go to see a therapist but also in many social situations, where friends and family seek to both diagnose problems from listening and also to help the speaker cure themselves, perhaps by some cathartic process. This also happens in work situations, where managers, Human Resource people, trainers and coaches seek to help employees learn and develop.

Dialogic listening

The word ‘dialogue’ stems from the Greek words ‘dia’, meaning ‘through’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘words’. Thus dialogic listening means learning through conversation and an engaged interchange of ideas and information in which we actively seek to learn more about the person and how they think.

Dialogic listening is sometimes known as ‘relational listening’.

Relationship listening

Sometimes, the most important factor in listening is in order to develop or sustain a relationship. This is why lovers talk for hours and attend closely to what each other has to say when the same words from someone else would seem to be rather boring.

Relationship listening is also important in areas such as negotiation and sales, where it is helpful if the other person likes you and trusts you.

Source:National Open University of Nigeria

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