5 Categories of Listeners and Barriers to Effective Listening

Ravichandran (2019: 2) exhaustively discusses the different groups of listeners. He listed the different types of listeners as active listeners, passive listeners, non-listeners, and evaluative listeners. His thorough discussion is reproduced below:

1. Active Listeners

As the term implies, active listeners involve themselves actively in the communication process by keenly listening not only to the message but also to the way it is being delivered. They focus on the content as well as the delivery. 

This means that they will take note of the verbal content along with its nonverbal subtexts. They will not hesitate to seek clarifications, ask leading questions, and show their approval by nodding their head and summarizing to indicate that they fully follow the speaker. 

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In this way, active listeners are quite sensitive toward the feelings of others, and they understand the mood of the audience. They show empathy and make the audience or the other personal care. 

Once the audience gets the feeling that they are being cared for, they will devote themselves entirely to the communication process. Once there is mutual involvement, there will be a hundred percent success in terms of communication. 

The message sent will be received correctly, and feedback is given favorably. So, it leads to a win-win situation and causes effective communication. Contrarily, if the audience would sense that the speaker is insensitive toward their feelings, they would remain cold and distant.

2. Passive Listeners

Passive listeners exhibit precisely the opposite behaviouristic traits of active listeners. They pay attention only to partial messages and lack sensitivity to the nuances, inner meanings, and nonverbal subtexts involved in communication. 

They allow someone to speak, without interrupting or seeking clarifications. They do not make notes, nod their head in approval, maintain eye contact, and keep themselves idle. 

Passive listening is hearing not listening! Since passive listeners keep their minds closed, communication with them is futile and incomplete.

3. Non-listeners

The non-listeners do not listen to all because they are genuinely disinterested in the subject. These people pretend to follow the speaker while they are preoccupied with something else. So, they will fake attention, but they could easily be recognized by their blank stare and impatient and nervous mannerisms.

They might be suffering from the rigidity of thinking and egotism. Their complete insensitivity and insensible nature make them incapable of understanding others. They do not even try to hear what the other person is saying.  

You will find no listeners among authority figures who will do most of the talking and will not let their subordinates easily express their ideas. Although they frequently interrupt by saying I understand, and I know, they do not know anything or understand the subject!

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4. Marginal Listeners

Impatient to listen to the main ideas, marginal listeners pay superficial attention and are interested only in the bottom line. They merely hear words but fail to grasp their meanings. They do not go to the deeper level in arguments. 

They use external distractions to excuse themselves from conversations. They will not have the patience to sit through complex technical presentations and jump to findings and conclusions. 

It is risky to communicate with marginal listeners because they are not focused on the main ideas and often misunderstand their import.

5. Evaluative Listeners

Evaluative listeners assess the verbal content based on words, not paralinguistic or nonverbal cues. Generally, they use logic to understand the content; hence, they distance themselves emotionally from the subject. As a result, they do not show empathy or sensitivity to the speaker. 

They are mostly prejudiced and judgmental as they presume the meaning before the speaker completes a sentence. Now, you will be surprised to know that most of us are evaluative listeners! If we observe ourselves, most of the time, we behave like evaluative listeners. 

Without paying full attention to the content, we always evaluate what somebody is trying to tell us. Those of us in a professional environment, assess the message in terms of its usefulness and mentally reject the speaker even before the speech is delivered to us.

Having discussed the various types of listeners, you may wonder which type you should aspire to become. Obviously, you should become an active listener. All effective communicators, for that matter, are active listeners.

Barriers to Effective Listening

  • Language: To understand a speaker, you must understand the presenter very well. Weak language proficiency and lack of adequate vocabulary are significant barriers to effective listening and hinder active participation in the communication process.
  • Disinterestedness: Lack of interest in any lecture, discussion or presentation will limit your level of understanding and participation.
  • Negative attitude towards the speaker: The listener‘s mindset can result in poor listening. If there is any resentment or hatred towards the speaker or disapproval of the topic of the presentation, there would be poor listening and distortion and reconstruction of the speaker‘s ideas. When the listener tries to undermine the speaker‘s viewpoints, a barrier to effective listening is automatically created.
  • Deep-rooted beliefs: When the listener has cultural or religious beliefs that are firmly rooted, the mind will also be sealed to new ideas and fresh viewpoints. 

Entrenched beliefs as a result of cultural or religious convictions act as barriers to the process of effective communication. Deep-rooted beliefs lead to superficial listening, distortion, or disagreement with the speaker‘s ideas and thoughts.

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