We learned that communication serves various functions in different contexts. Speakers have different purposes in conveying a message. In the same way, listeners also have different intentions for listening. Researchers have identified five purposes for listening: listening for information, listening to evaluate information, listening to provide emotional support, listening for pleasure, and listening to discriminate.
A listener whose purpose is to acquire information aims to understand the message being conveyed by the speaker. This type of listening does not require the listener to form judgments or evaluate the validity or reliability of the information presented. Listening to the teacher’s discussion of scientific concepts in class, listening to a museum curator explain the significance of a historical artefact during a conference, watching a video that explains and demonstrates the process of dyeing clothes, are all examples of informational or comprehensive listening.
Also called evaluative listening, critical listening involves both listening for information and listening to evaluate the content of the message. One cannot analyze or evaluate something without first comprehending it. Listeners involved in critical listening may question the validity of the information and form sound judgments. Critical listening does not necessarily mean criticizing the speaker’s ideas or knowledge or the way the information was presented. In the case of persuasive speeches, critical listeners may ask whether the information is convincing enough to be accepted as fact or at least accommodated as part of their belief system or way of thinking. Critical listening is also important especially when we are subjected to manipulative persuasion, such as advertisements trying to convince us to buy their products.
Empathy refers to the ability to understand and feel what the other person is feeling or experiencing. When we engage in empathic listening, we listen to provide help, advice, or emotional support to a person in need or someone experiencing problems. Aside from the purpose of helping, empathic listening also develops and strengthens relationships. Friends and family members use empathic listening to help someone experiencing a dilemma; counselors and therapists listen empathically to people experiencing difficulties; and even radio personalities nowadays demonstrate this type of listening to callers who want to share their problems on air.
Compared to the previously discussed types of listening, appreciative listening or listening for pleasure or enjoyment does not require much focus or attention. When we listen to songs or entertaining speeches, when we attend musical plays or concerts, and when we listen to friends share amusing stories, we are listening appreciatively. When we listen for pleasure, we do not have to organize, evaluate, remember, or retain information.
Listening to discriminate sounds and other paralinguistic symbols such as pitch, intonation, and volume is essential when we attempt to comprehend the meaning of the message beyond the use of language. For instance, detectives listen to discriminate whether or not an individual is telling the truth by finding meaning in one’s rate of speaking or change of tone.