What is discriminative listening? (Verbal & non-verbal)

In this article, we talk about discriminative listening and the important differences between verbal and non-verbal communication. 

What is Discriminative Listening?

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Discriminative Listening may be defined as the type where the person pays attention to the language being used by the person in front of them, and this type of listening may often be used especially when someone is learning a new language or listening to it. Discriminative listening may also be defined as listening where the person tries to understand the intricacies of the spoken words as they listen.

Discriminative listening refers to paying attention to specific vibrations and sounds of the interlocutor’s voice and this type may be used to listen to the message behind the words.

Discriminative listening helps us to capture emotions from the other person’s voice. And it may be considered the foundation of all other forms of listening.

Discriminative Listening: Examples

Examples of discriminative listening are recognizing and interpreting accents or different languages. While discriminative listening involves understanding or distinguishing between various sounds, Comprehensive listening is the interpretation of the words and ideas and examples of this include understanding the thoughts, ideas, and message.

Discriminative listening is very important because it communicates the message behind the words.

Basically, discriminative listening helps us to capture emotions from the other person’s voice.

Discriminative listening is the foundation of all other forms of listening. For me, it means having and developing the ability to discriminate between stimuli.

It involves a perceptual process rather than a comprehensive one. 

Among the types of listening skills that develop earlier is the discriminative listening technique.

As is evident in the term, this listening allows you to distinguish and differentiate between sounds so that you know the particular sound that characterizes a particular thing.

The development of discriminative listening skills begins even before a person is born when we are still in our mother’s womb to be more precise, and it gradually grows in dimension as we progress in life. 

Whether it is helping us differentiate between the effect of each sound or the ability to recognize subtle differences in the way a message sounds, discriminative listening is the foundation that leads to further classification of other types of communication skills.

In fact, this listening ability also forms the basis of our ability to gradually begin to understand body language.

There is a different type of listening, called Engaged listening which helps to improve ones self-esteem.

Non-verbal and verbal communication

Although communication is constantly evolving, in general terms, communication occurs “when an organism (the source) encodes information into signals and passes it to another organism (the receiver) that decodes the signals and is able to respond appropriately“, as recorded by Melvin L. DeFleur in Theories of Mass Communication.

It is, as Gloria Hervás adds in How to master verbal and non-verbal communication, the process through which a person or persons transmit messages to other or others, and by any procedure, messages of diverse content, using intentionally meaningful signs for both parties, and by which a relationship is established that produces effects ”.

It is in this “by any procedure” where the differentiation between verbal and non-verbal communication comes into play.

In this sense, the first is one that uses verbal tools to send the message, while non-verbal communication encompasses all other forms of information transmission by an individual.

Channels – The first and most obvious difference between verbal and non-verbal communication is the support that each typology uses.

Thus, in verbal communication, you use the word to transmit the information, either orally (sound or auditory signs, such as screaming, exclamations, whistles, vocal sounds …) or written (letters, linguistic signs and drawings).

On the other hand, in non-verbal communication, the sending of the message is carried out through visual elements. In this case, you can use different components, from paralinguistic (tone of voice, rhythm, volume, timbre, silences …) or kinesic (facial and body expression), to proxemic (interpersonal distance) or the environment itself (objects that surround you and that say a lot about you) – These channels can only be recognised by discriminative listening. 

Scope – Non-verbal communication is much older than verbal communication. It is the means that human beings have used for millennia to communicate when oral language did not yet exist.

For this reason, non-verbal language is universal, that is, you can get along with anyone on the planet through this form of communication.

On the other hand, verbal communication is more limited in its scope, since it is based on a pre-established code: language.

As a consequence, for there to be an exchange of information, the partners need to share the same language.

Understanding – Of course, in the event that you share the same code with the receiver, the oral language is easier to decipher, generating fewer opportunities for confusion when transferring the message.

In non-verbal communication, understanding is more complicated and requires a high dose of interpretation on the part of the other person, so it can lead to misunderstanding.

Impact – Despite this difficulty, the truth is that the non-verbal language represents a large part of the information that is communicated.

In fact, only 7% of the message that your interlocutor perceives comes from the spoken or written word, while 38% is sent through paralinguistic communication and the remaining 55%, through kinesics, according to the experiments carried out by the psychologist Albert Mehrabian.

That is, despite what you may initially think, when you are talking to a person, you are saying more through your non-verbal communication, than through your words.

Control – This is due to the uncontrollable nature of non-verbal communication. This type of language emanates from the limbic part of the brain, the emotional, and therefore is unstoppable.

Even when you want to consciously avoid a reaction, the rational part of the mind takes a while to hide it, so for at least a quarter of a second, the original emotion will flow.

Verbal language, by contrast, arises in that rational part of the brain, which means that you have the ability to say in words what you really want to say, whether or not it is 100% true.

Reliability – This uncontrollability of non-verbal communication is precisely what makes it more reliable.

If you know how to unravel the signs of non-oral language, you will get much more complete and truthful information about what the other person is saying to you.

However, if you only attend to what is said verbally, it is very possible that you will not reach that result since you will only base yourself on one part of the message, the most manipulable.

For example, you may be asked how you are and from your mouth emanates a “Very good”, but if the receiver looks at other aspects, he will see that your face and body show sadness.

In any case, despite the differences, non-verbal and verbal communication are not mutually exclusive, but complementary, serving each other to reinforce and expand the message and make it more understandable to other people.

A goal that every leader must master.

Other types of listening

Besides discriminative listening, which is our main theme for this article, there are other 13 different types of listening.

Pseudo listening – Pseudo listening, also known as false listening means listening without paying attention. We all practised pseudo listening at least once in our lives.

We all found ourselves thinking about anything other than what the speaker in front of us was talking about. 

Informational listening – A type of listening to that requires immense concentration. This form of listening is about the ability to receive the information the speaker wants to convey.

Informational listening is about learning what you hear.

Comprehensive Listening – A type of listening that we practice almost daily. For example, when you are attending a lecture or you are having a conversation with your friend, you practice comprehensive listening.

The purpose of this type of listening is to understand best the message of our interlocutor. 

Therapeutic or Empathic Listening – A type of listening to that prioritizes the mental state, emotions and feelings of the speaker.

As an example, you can practice empathic listening when someone gives you advice or asks you for a sensitive issue or topic.

Selective listening – A negative way of listening to someone. This type of listening can often cause conflicts or misunderstandings between people.

Selective listening involves filtering the speaker’s message and selecting from what he or she says, a part that affects you or that interests you most.

Rapport listening  – Oftentimes practised by sellers. Their interest is to make you feel important, understood and valuable.

Therefore, people who practice listening will do everything they can to please the interlocutor.

Evaluative listening – It occurs when the interlocutor tries to convince us by influencing our attitudes, beliefs or ideas.

We listen and evaluate the received message so that we can make the appropriate decisions regarding the received message. Evaluative listening is also called critical listening.

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Appreciative listening – Appreciative listening is one through which we listen without paying

attention, in a relaxed way, seeking pleasure or inspiration. We hear about

entertainment. We don’t actually pay attention. 

Deep listening – It means being fully present and ready to listen to the other person. This form of listening involves empathy, understanding, unconditional respect for the other person.

High integrity listening – It implies that you know how to listen with integrity.

Integrity is the kind of virtue that encompasses a series of moral traits of a person, such as honesty, respect for oneself and others. 

Judgmental listening – It is practised by those who, in communicating with others, spend most of their time analyzing and evaluating what the other person is saying.

These people do not shy away from expressing their opinion even if it comes in contention with everything the speaker has said. 

Sympathetic listening – It is somehow resembling empathetic listening.

This type of communication requires special attention to the emotions of the interlocutor.

Sympathetic listening allows you to express your emotions about what you hear. 

Relationship listening – It is about the connection that is formed between people when they communicate.

The stronger this connection is, the easier the two people can understand each other.

There is one more type, called the superficial listening.


In this article, we talked about discriminative listening and the important differences between verbal and non-verbal communication. 

Discriminative listening is the most rudimentary form of listening that we humans are capable of.

Discriminative listening is about the vibrations and sounds of the interlocutor’s voice.

This type of listening is very important because it communicates the message behind the words. 

In any case, despite the differences, non-verbal and verbal communication are not mutually exclusive, but complementary, serving each other to reinforce and expand the message and make it more understandable to other people.

A goal that every person must master.

If you have any comments or questions, please let us know!

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FAQ about discriminative listening

What is discriminative listening?

Discriminative listening is the most rudimentary form of listening that we humans are capable of.

Discriminative listening is about the vibrations and sounds of the interlocutor’s voice.

This type of listening is very important because it communicates the message behind the words. 

What is the difference between to hear and to listen?

The difference between hearing and listening is that hearing means receiving sounds and communication.

We hear continuously. While listening means hearing and paying attention to what you hear.

And, in the relationship with other people, it means to be attentive to what the other person says with the intention of understanding the message one transmits.

What makes a good listener?

A good listener is attentive to his caller.

Listen with empathy, understanding, an open-minded year and ask important questions.

A good listener knows that not everything is solved, as if by magic, just by having a conversation.

Instead, it takes time and openness.

What makes a bad listener?

A bad listener is a person who often interrupts you, does not really hear what you say and does not make an effort to understand your message.

A bad listener will try to force his or her own opinion or an “ideal solution” on you and will quickly change the subject.

What is the importance of listening?

Good listening is extremely important in any relationship.

By practising active listening you are showing to the other person that you care, that you value their opinion and time.

Knowing how to practice good listening is a quality that not many people possess.  

Is it better to hear or listen?

We cannot say if it is better to hear or listen, because it depends on the situation.

We cannot pay attention to each auditory stimuli out there, however, in a conversation with a person, listening is obviously better.

Further reading

Active Listening, by Carl R. Rogers

Active Listening: Improve Your Conversation Skills, Learn Effective Communication Techniques: Achieve Successful Relationships: With 6 Essential Guidelines, by Joseph Sorensen 

The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction, by Rebecca Z. Shafir MA CCC

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry


Active Listening, by Carl R. Rogers

Theories of Mass Communication, by Melvin L. DeFleur 

How to master verbal and non-verbal communication, by Gloria Hervás

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