We all change our “technique” when needed… Using different strategies while playing any kind of sport to better counteract our opponents, being a different kind of parent to our children of different ages and even speak differently to different people to get their attention back to us…
And yet, knowing very well that we need to keep changing ourselves to better adapt to the situation, we don’t really change our listening technique at all. Despite being in different situations, we sit back and listen, the way we always do. There’s a lot of difference in listening to a speech, an interactive talk, a lecture, a song, a stand-up show – but do we really use our listening differently to better adapt to these different situations? Frankly, the answer is likely to be a no, and the mismatch is as evident as is beer served in a wine glass!
The solution: Change our modes of listening, to better suit the different occasions.
You Can Truly Understand What Is Being Said When You Can Switch Your Listening Modes Properly
Different “speaking” situations demand that we adapt to them by using different listening techniques. A simple example of this would be three very different situations we often face in office – that of getting a directive from our seniors, attending a training module or having a luncheon conversation with colleagues. All three situations demand that we use different listening techniques for we have to remember the first one, learn from the second and empathize with the third. So then, the three most commonly used listening types are:
When you listen to learn something or collect information from – this is called informational or informative listening. This kind of listening holds true in many diverse situations – attending a lecture or training module, listening to the news or a documentary, asking and then listening to the answer of a question you have, listening to an asked-for recipe… Diverse situations but all of these have a commonality – you are paying attention to what is being said and basically listening to something that is giving your information that you want, need or deem necessary. 
- For informative listening, switch off those wandering thoughts and keep those distractions away. Listen to the words and try and remember as much of them as you can. You are basically downloading a set of directives or directions – so listen, understand and retain as much of it as you can.
- Informative listening can also be called active or attentive listening – where you consciously direct all your attention to the speaker and listen to the words being said.
Critical listening is not listening with a critical or jaundiced view, rather, it’s the next step in learning where you evaluate and scrutinize all that is being said and figure how much of it holds true in different contexts and how much of it have you truly understood. This is also the time to raise your doubts and ask your questions, once the speaker has finished his talk, so as to truly understand what is being said.
Examples of this are instructional and educational talks, lectures and courses, conversations with doctors, technical experts and much more… The end idea is to learn and remember for future use.
- To be in a critical listening mode, you have to be attentive and listen to all that the speaker is saying and also try and read between the lines, instead of talking the words on just a literal scale. Make notes if you want, and make sure to raise your hand and ask those questions at the end – you have to be clear on the understanding and comprehension of all you listened to. You can also choose to digress from or argue a point if you disagree about something.
- Critical Listening is often also synonymous with deep or reflective listening where you listen to more than just the words, and then think about all that you have understood or not, trying to glean as much as you can through introspection and doubt clarification.
This is akin to lending your shoulder for someone to cry on – empathetic listening exists purely as friendly shoulder where you listen to and feel from the place the speaker is coming from so as to commiserate, empathize or even help the speaker in any way you can. While this is used in relationships be it family, friends or lovers – empathetic listening is also employed by professionals such as therapists, doctors or even lawyers where they listen to their clients’ tale of woes with an open ear and a friendly expression to better get to the root of the problem.
Good marketing and sales professionals also employ this tactic to better understand their clients’ need and provide them with tailor-made solutions.
- For empathetic listening, you have to listen to more than just what is being said – the body language, the emotions behind the words all come into play for you to truly understand all that the speaker is trying to make you envisage. Imagine yourself in the speaker’s place and you will begin to understand the situation in better detail – for you to help the speaker as you can, as a professional or simply as a friend.
- Relationship listening (where attentive listening happens due to an active interest in maintaining or furthering a relationship), sympathetic listening (where you share the pain of the speaker), dialogic listening (where you enter into a conversation to really understand the speaker better) and therapeutic listening (where you listen and try to offer help or advice, mostly a professional caregiver) all come under empathetic listening.
So there you have it, the way we use different tools to crack different hardware, or even use different cutlery to eat different cuisine – similarly when it comes to listening, we need to use different skills and techniques to better listen and understand what is being said.