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Depth of listening


Techniques Listening > Depth of listening

False listening | Initial listening | Selective listening | Partial listening | Full listening | Deep listening | See also


There are several different types of listening, based on how deeply you are listening to the other person. If you can identify these, then you can choose which you want to use.

False listening

False listening occurs where a person is pretending to listen but is not hearing anything that is being said. They may nod, smile and grunt in all the right places, but do not actually take in anything that is said.

This is a skill that may be finely honed by people who do a lot of inconsequential listening, such as politicians and royalty. Their goal with their audience is to make a good impression in very short space of time before they move on, never to talk to that person again. It is also something practiced by couples, particularly where one side does most of the talking. However, the need for relationship here can lead to this being spotted ('You're not listening again!') and consequent conflict.

Initial listening

Sometimes when we listen we hear the first few words and then start to think about what we want to say in return. We then look for a point at which we can interrupt. We are also not listening then as we are spending more time rehearsing what we are going to say about their initial point.

Selective listening

Selective listening involves listening for particular things and ignoring others. We thus hear what we want to hear and pay little attention to 'extraneous' detail.

Partial listening

Partial listening is what most of us do most of the time. We listen to the other person with the best of intent and then become distracted, either by stray thoughts or by something that the other person has said.

We consequently dip inside our own heads for a short while as we figure out what they really mean or formulate a question for them, before coming  back into the room and starting to listen again.

This can be problematic when the other person has moved on and we are unable to pick up the threads of what is being said. We thus easily can fall into false listening, at least for a short while. This can be embarrassing, of course, if they suddenly ask your opinion. A tip here: own up, admitting that you had lost the thread of the conversation and asking them to repeat what was said.

Full listening

Full listening happens where the listener pays close and careful attention to what is being said, seeking carefully to understand the full content that the speaker is seeking to put across.

This may be very active form of listening, with pauses for summaries and testing that understanding is complete. By the end of the conversation, the listener and the speaker will probably agree that the listener has fully understood what was said.

Full listening takes much more effort than partial listening, as it requires close concentration, possibly for a protracted period. It also requires skills of understanding and summary.

Deep listening

Beyond the intensity of full listening, you can also reach into a form of listening that not only hears what is said but also seeks to understand the whole person behind the words.

In deep listening, you listen between the lines of what is said, hearing the emotion, watching the body language, detecting needs and goals, identifying preferences and biases, perceiving beliefs and values, and so on.

To listen deeply, you need a strong understanding of human psychology (which this site seeks to give you) and to pay attention not just to the words by the whole person.

Deep listening is also known as 'Whole person' listening.

See also



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