The relational listening style (+13 other listening styles)

In this blog post, we will talk about the relational listening style, the three key elements of empathic communication, the blocks of relational listening and how to practice a more empathetic communication.

What is the relational listening style?

The relational listening style is all 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. 

A relational listening style means that we value the interlocutor’s feelings and attitude, and tend to pay attention to the parts of the message that speak about the emotions of our conversation partner. 

The relational listening style is based on empathy. 

Empathy is the ability to understand the inner world of others and avoid making judgments.

Empathic communication is the path that leads to this goal through two techniques: understanding and active listening.

Empathic communication is not only an important component of the helping relationship but also a valuable tool in any work environment and in the social sphere.

The word “empathy” derives from the Greek empathy (to feel within) and refers to the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes.

Whoever is empathetic can understand the other’s inner world (his affections, thoughts, emotions, etc.) but without making them his own.

Empathic communication is an attitude that we possess (when we are lucky) or that can be acquired through training.

What is learned is how to break the relational barriers with others avoiding the mistakes that close the communication.

The key elements of empathic communication are understanding and active listening.

Relational listening in empathic communication

When we communicate with another person there are two main ways through which we try to understand what we are saying:

  • The first way is intellectual understanding, typical of those who want to understand the facts. The listener focuses on the events that took place and how they alternate. The focus is on what the other is saying.
  • The second is empathic understanding. Here we focus attention on how our interlocutor is speaking. The focus, therefore, is on the emotional nuances of the narrative that provide insight into the narrator’s state of mind – meaning we practice relational listening.

Often we only have the feeling that we have been truly understood when our listener understands what we are experiencing and not how the matter was carried out.

The three key elements of empathic communication

The empathic communication that leads to relational listening is based on three main elements:

Transparency: do not hide emotional reactions. We can disagree with someone and that can be shared, but lying blocks communication.

Self-control: not to confuse our reactions with those of the other person, nor to impose our needs. We are not always on the lookout for advice.

Unconditional acceptance: avoid judging the behaviour of others and focus on what they feel.

Active listening for empathetic communication

To make sure that the other is open and trusts us, it is necessary to demonstrate the ability to listen (usually, the interesting part of the story is always queued in the conversation).

Listening does not mean staying still and not interrupting, it is a proactive behaviour by which one becomes able to understand the other. 

Active listening avoids communication blocks and fosters empathy.

Let’s see what are the characteristics of these blocks:

  • Inquiring attitude is more attentive to the details of what happened.
  • Imposition of solutions based on their experience. Who offers easy solutions to the problems of others is often offended if we ignore him.
  • Generalistic comforting phrases that do not take into account the specific nature of the situation.
  • Expression of personal opinions about what happened.

Encourage empathetic communication

What should we do to encourage empathic communication?

If the purpose is to understand the other, you must first accept that sometimes we cannot understand everything immediately.

It is useful to ask questions, for example, to paraphrase what has been said. This gives the other person a chance to check our understanding.

Two more active strategies are confrontation and the use of humour.

In both cases you have to pay close attention: humour can have the opposite effect if it is not used in moderation.

As for the confrontation, it is advisable not to talk about your own experiences (to avoid diverting the conversation to yourself), but of anonymous third parties. 

Other types of listening

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

Discriminative listening – This 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.

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

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.

Pseudo or False listening – 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.

Pseudo listening is about pretending to be listening when you actually think of something else.

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. 

Appreciative listening It 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. 


In this blog post, we will talk about the relational listening style, the three key elements of empathic communication, the blocks of relational listening and how to practice a more empathetic communication.

FAQ about relational listening

What is relational listening?

A relational listening style means that we value the interlocutor’s feelings and attitude, and tend to pay attention to the parts of the message that speak about the emotions of our conversation partner. 

What is the disadvantage of relational listening?

A disadvantage of relational listening style is the difficulty to be objective and to remain detached. 

What is the difference between real and pseudo listening?

Real listening is when you actively listen to the interlocutor’s message, while pseudo listening means not paying too much attention or thinking of something else while in a conversation. 

What is empathic active listening?

Empathic active listening is essential in cultivating quality relationships.

It creates human connection, closeness, appreciation and affection.

Is a type of listening that makes the other feel heard, appreciated and valued. 

What makes a good listener?

A good listener is attentive to his caller.

Listen with empathy, understanding, and open-minded ears 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 are the 7 types of listening?

7 common types of listening are:
Evaluative listening

– Appreciative listening

– Empathic listening

– Comprehensive listening

– Critical listening

– Relational listening

Pseudo listening


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

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