Just as there are many forms of communication, there are different types of listening, and it’s important to recognize each of them.

When we talk about people who are good communicators, it’s mainly that they are good listeners. The ability to actively listen to another person is one of the most valuable traits a person can have. Nothing is more frustrating for a person trying to share how they are feeling than to constantly be interrupted. The person who has the ability to listen is the person who can be most helpful.

Good listeners are empathetic, compassionate, and caring, and this goes a long way with building connections to others. But the fact is, there are several types of listening, and each is important in its own way. This article will look at 8 different listening types and how to recognize them.

How Are the Different Types of Listening Defined?

  1. Discriminative Listening
  2. Comprehensive Listening
  3. Appreciative Listening
  4. Therapeutic Listening
  5. Critical Listening
  6. Passive Listening
  7. Competitive Listening
  8. Combative Listening

Most of this work goes back a few decades to the works of Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Coakley. The best way to picture these ideas is with the symbol of a tree. Some forms of listening are more foundational while some are higher-level styles of learning.

The base of the tree will make up the foundational type of listening, and that’s where we’ll start.

Basic Types of Listening

1. Discriminative Listening

This is a basic type of listening. It’s the type that simply determines what the sound you are listening to is. When you’re hearing various sounds and trying to decipher what a specific sound is, that’s discriminate listening. We use this type of listening all the time, but often it’s to show if what we are hearing is familiar or not. If you’re out in a crowded place and hear someone talking in a different language, you recognize it as language but aren’t yet sure if it’s familiar to you.

Another great example of why discriminative listening is important is it helps you to focus on a specific sound while dismissing other ones. This is handy if you’re driving a car full of loud people but hear a bad noise coming from the engine. This form of listening allows you to zero in on specific sounds.

So you now know what you’re listening to, what is the next type?

2. Comprehensive Listening

Comprehensive listening would be higher up on the trunk if we are using our tree example. This is a higher order of listening than discriminative listening. With listening of this type, we are now listening so we may understand. You would most often use this type of listening when you are in a classroom or lecture and you are trying to understand the message that someone is relaying to you.

This is another basic form of listening, and the goal of it is to simply understand. You can see how – even though these first two are simple – there is a big jump between discriminative and comprehensive listening. This is the difference between paying attention and really hearing what a person is saying to you instead of hearing them – but tuning them out. It can be quite easy to recognize when someone is actively listening to you compared to their eyes being glazed over, not taking anything in.

Higher Types of Listening

So with the root forms understood now, we move into the higher types of listening, and that brings us to:

3. Appreciative Listening

This is where you’re listening deeper and appreciate the sounds, and the best example of this is with music. There is a difference between having music on as background noise and truly experiencing the sounds you are hearing. This is why we can get real enjoyment from music, but it happens best when you focus on it. It can be any style, the main thing is the appreciation you have for it and what resonates with you. This could be classical music or death metal, the point is that it connects with you and you feel it. You hear the changes in sounds, instruments, and movements being used as opposed to it just sounding like a bunch of noise.

This is a valuable form of listening as it allows for joy in your life. Music can lift the soul and spirit, and this acts as a reward for appreciative listening.

4. Therapeutic Listening

Conversational Skills introvert

We are continuing to move higher up the tree. This also may be one of the most valuable forms of listening – especially when it pertains to helping others. With therapeutic listening, we are listening intending to help someone. This is one of the types of listening to help someone work through an issue, deal with a problem, and work through different emotions. The best way to look at this is as a genuine therapy session. This is all about empathy and understanding of what another person is going through.

This listening is not just limited to therapists and friends and family helping each other, though. This is an important listening type used by managers, bosses, trainers, and even coaches to help employees learn and develop. As mentioned, it’s easy to recognize this way of listening as the other person is working with you and trying to help.

5. Critical Listening

Now we are getting up to the higher levels of listening and to the very top of the tree. This ends up being a very important style of listening as it helps you to wade through vast amounts of information. An easy way to think of critical listening is when it comes to things like politics, research, science, or different type of reports. We can recognize critical listening when you ask questions like:

  • Is this valid?
  • Are they making a genuine argument?
  • Are they using information that makes sense?
  • Am I getting to hear both sides of the story?
  • Am I getting presented with all the facts?

This form of listening is more than just understanding but is about analyzing the message we are hearing. This is important to be able to protect ourselves from false or harmful information. Critical listening is about hearing arguments, thoughts, and ideas, but analyzing all the information.

Negative Types of Listening

These are the 5 main types of listening, but there are a few more worth looking at:

6. Passive Listening

Most people aren’t sure if they are a good or bad listener, but it’s easy to tell with passive listening. A passive listener just does not have the ability to listen. They seem disinterested, constantly interrupt, or don’t keep eye contact when engaging with you. They may constantly check their phone or look to be distracted in any way.

7. Competitive Listening

Whereas the passive listener isn’t good at listening, competitive listening may be worse. Listening of this type is definitely active listening, but only so they may jump in with their own take. Whatever you say, they try to one-up it. You’ve probably encountered this many times when telling a story and the other person brings in their own anecdotes and experiences trying to outdo you.

8. Combative Listening

This is like the competitive listener, but this time, they’re just looking for some form of confrontation. They want to argue just for the sake of arguing. They are actively listening to what you have to say, but only to challenge and combat you on it. They would rather disagree than hear you and understand what you’re trying to say.

Final Thoughts

Listening is an invaluable skill. The best communicators turn out to be that way because they are the best listeners. It turns out that listening is not as simple as it seems and there are many types of listening. By looking through this list, you can see the many types, what purpose they serve, and how to recognize them.

The goal is to be able to hear and understand someone, but engage when the time is right. Most people today feel misunderstood and unheard, so being a person who truly hears them can go a long way in helping and healing others.


  1. https://www.researchgate.net/
  2. https://socialsci.libretexts.org/
  3. https://methods.sagepub.com/

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This Post Has 3 Comments


    Brilliant Post . Thanks for Share .

  2. Ronald Kampanba_Mutati


  3. Christopher D Hill

    Thanks for those points of view about listening, though I believe they are more about motivation than listening. Everything we do is driven by what we value and the opportunity to generate more of it, and when it comes to Appreciative, Therapeutic and Critical listening, the added value is easily seen.

    I especially appreciate your focus on Discriminative and Passive listening, when we try to determine how important something is, and listen with varying degrees of attention. When we hear a siren or alarm, it gets our attention, but when we keep hearing something of little perceived value, we learn to tune-it-out. In between those two extremes lie what matters to us most, depending on what’s most valuable to us. But there is a difference between Intake and Processing, and especially Reacting.

    Hearing is all about Intake–we can’t receive what we don’t hear…and when we block or drown something out, we can’t hear it, much less listen. From there we take what we hear into our working memory until we Process it or we run out of space! Most people only have around fifteen seconds of capacity, about the length of one long sentence–exceed that and the listener starts getting lost. But when the processing begins, the hearing fades…and if the reaction begins, hearing all but ends.

    There are three general Reactions, Relevance, Clarity and Conflict. Relevance is like your Comprehension, but specific to one’s values, and the more perceived value, the more the listener frames what they are hearing. Clarity refers to the coherence of what they are hearing, reasoning how complete and accurate it is. Conflict is a normative term, ranging from complete agreement to utter nonsense. So the more relevant, clear and consistent something is with one’s values, understanding and beliefs, they more someone listens…otherwise, they react.

    So, to me there are only three kinds of listening, Recognized, Concentrated and and Working, and the rest is more Processing, Reactions and Values. Listening begins with recognizing value in what’s being heard, and then concentrates on what’s most valuable to store until it’s ready to use…and it’s the last kind I’d like to focus on most, when we stop listening and start processing and reacting. The longer we can do that, the more we can listen, and the better we learn how to do it, the better listeners we become. Reading what’s written affords plenty of time to ‘listen’ without reacting, but hearing, not so much. I have a notepad with me all of the time, so I can listen more, and react less…to hear what life and others have to say, before I react….

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