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Talking Is Easy Listening Is Hard

Did you know there is more than one way to listen?

For years, I thought there were at most three, Regular Listening, Active Listening, and Selective Hearing (as my mother would say). As I was researching and studying how to be a better active listener, I discovered that there are more than 20 types of listening.

Why are there so many different types of listening, and how can there be so many?

Let’s start with the basics; just as there are different ways to convey information, there are various ways to take it in as well. How attentive were you when someone read you a bedtime story? Were you that attentive at the dinner table or when you were being lectured? Think about the difference between listening to the radio vs. listening to a news report. How different is it when you listened to yesterday’s news vs. the news during the 911 attacks.


Experts in relationship building, human science, education, and even marketing have shared what they have learned about effective communication through listening. I like to group these into four categories: Active Listening, Empathic Listening, Critical Listening, and Inactive Listening.

Active Listening is where you put most of your effort in understanding what the other person is trying to convey. Empathic Listening is where you put most of your energy into understanding how someone is feeling emotionally. Critical Listening is where you are analyzing, studying, or editing what someone is saying. Inactive Listening is where you are putting little to no effort into the context, but not actively shutting it out.

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