Learning Objectives

5.1  Define listening and explain how it differs from hearing.

5.2  Dispel a number of misconceptions about listening.

5.3  Identify the components of effective listening.

5.4  Identify barriers to successful listening.

5.5  Outline several types of listening.

5.6  Describe steps to becoming a better listener.




In everyday life we often worry about how to construct and deliver messages, but rarely do we consider how critical it is to receive those messages in an effective way. Make no mistake, though; listening is as important to good communication as speaking or writing. Listening is a positive; it is the cornerstone to understanding others and understanding the world. This chapter presents a comprehensive look at this crucial skill, offering insight on how to overcome impediments to effective listening and hints for improvement.



  • Activity: Telephone I

Put yourself and 5 or 6 friends in a line or circle. A moderator begins the game by whispering a sentence to the first person. This sentence should be written in advance and should only be known to the moderator. The first person who receives the sentence then whispers it to the next person and so on to the end. When it gets to the final person in the group, she or he should say the sentence aloud. The first person will read the sentence provided by the moderator and participants can discuss how much difference there is between the two versions and speculate on where there might have been listening failures.

  • Activity: Telephone II

Follow the same procedure as in the first activity, but instruct participants, after they hear the message (not during hearing, but after), to write down what they heard and whisper-read it to the next person. In this way, any changes in the message is committed to paper, and at the end of the chain of whispers the moderator can post the note cards for everyone to see. It should be pretty clear where the message started and continued to go off track and the listening errors can be pin-pointed and identified.

  • Activity: Selective Listening

You can be the moderator for this exercise. Compose a list of objects, all similar in theme. For example, you might use things that make up a sandwich: turkey, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, mustard, cheese. Or you could use pieces of furniture found in a house: table, bed, lamp, desk, rug, cabinet. In any event, your list should be somewhat long, maybe 15 to 20 words, and have some repeated words. Using the sandwich option: turkey, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, cheese, ham, lettuce, pickles, onion, olives, lettuce. Read the list to the group and then give them 30 seconds to write down as many words as they can remember. Most people will remember the word that was repeated most frequently and several will typically write down words that obviously belonged on the list but not actually stated. You’ll get a few people offering bread, sandwich, and food or furniture, sofa, and dresser. Again, you can identify not only individual listening problems, but can discuss what types of listening errors (or noise) produced the results you see.




1.      What are the 5 primary types of listening and when is each employed?


Sample answer: There are five types of listening: informative, appreciative, relational, critical, and discriminative. Informative listening takes place when our primary goal is to understand the message, and we can consider ourselves successful if the meaning we make from what we hear is as close as possible to what the speaker had intended. Appreciative listening means listening for enjoyment or pleasure. Relational listening is lending someone a sympathetic ear, trying to identify with him or her. Critical listening happens when we need to make a decision based on the information offered us and when we want to evaluate or analyze what’s being said. Discriminative listening occurs when we pay close attention to more than the simple denotative meaning of the words we hear.


2.      List and describe at least 10 of the 16 steps to becoming a better listener.


Sample answer: An individual can become a more effective listener by searching for something of interest, being aware of what is not said, being transactive, expending energy, reconciling through speed and speech speed, and focusing attention on central ideas. Other ways to become an effective listener include taking meaningful notes, using mnemonics, resisting external distractions, holding one’s rebuttal, being alert for green-flag words, keeping an open mind, analyzing nonverbal messages, evaluating and critiquing content rather than delivery, practicing listening, and behaving like a discriminative listener.


Go to the Source

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The Lost Art of Listening. New York: Guilford Press.

Nichols, R. G. (1955). “Ten Components of Effective Listening.Education, 75: 292–302.

Wolvin, A., and C. G. Coakley. (1996). Listening. Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark.



This University of Florida Leadership Development program has prepared a training program to help its leaders improve their listening skills. It’s a solid curriculum to boost anyone’s listening abilities.

The ILA promotes the study, development, and teaching of listening and the practice of effective listening skills and techniques. This professional organization is made up of a network of professionals who exchange information on teaching methods, training experiences and materials, and pursuing research on listening as it affects business, education, and intercultural/international relations.



Back to top