What is Superficial listening?

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In this blog we will discuss what superficial listening is. 

We will also briefly explore what causes superficial listening, how it differs from effective listening, how it impacts communication, and how you can develop effective listening styles. 

What is Superficial listening?

Superficial listening is where a listener is able to hear what you are saying- the content of the message- but is unable to understand the point you are trying to make- make complete meaning out of it. 

According to Directutor, It is a basic form of listening where the listener only hears what is spoken and does not take into account other forms of communication such as body language or tone etc. 

Another definition of superficial listening according to Answers.com,

“…In this type of Listening the listener has little awareness of the content of what is being said. The output is this type of listening is zero because the listener tends to ignore the message, and is not able to concentrate on the theme, main points and supporting details of the message.“

Based on this definition one can understand superficial listening as a situation where the listener does not take any valuable information in because they are either distracted or they are pretending to listen to the message.

Here, the listener is unable to attend to the details of the message, understand the meaning of the message, as well as the content of the message because they are not actively listening to the speaker. 

Superficial listening is a barrier to effective communication because there is not much that is understood nor is there much information that is retained. 

People who engage in this type of listening might ignore what is being said or ignore half of the message that is put across. Instead of listening to understand and help the speaker feel acknowledged and listened to,  superficial listening is done without taking into account other people’s need to be heard. 

Example of Superficial listening is to:

  • Multitask by talking on the phone while watching television
  • Having an internal battle when someone is speaking to you but you nod as though you are listening.
  • Pretending to listen when working on something else.. 

What are the possible causes for Superficial listening?

One of the main reasons why Superficial listening occurs is due to distractions of the listener in their own lives or stress which is also causing the distraction and the difficulty for them to be present in the conversation.

One might enae in superficial listening because they need to keep up a front of being someone attentive while in fact they are uninterested in understanding other people’s message or their stories. 

Familiarity with the topic that is being discussed can also lead the listener to overestimate their understanding of what is being said and lead to less efforts to listen and understand.

Another obvious reason why pseudolistening happens is because the individual has not been taught how to listen actively due to lack of education and modelling in these lives.

What are the differences between Superficial listening and Active listening?

The various differences between Superficial listening and active listening include the following:

Superficial listening does not include encouragers or many include too many encouragers to compensate for the lack of attentive listening. However, active listeners will use encouragement at appropriate times and without excess. 

Superficial listening includes closed off body language such as people being turned away, arms folded, disordered etc whereas active listening will include open body language that leans into the conversation. 

Superficial listeners will engage in broad responses to what is being said, and oftentimes they will interrupt others or dismiss them whereas active listeners will give inputs to further clarify, understand, or help the speaker reflect on what is being said.

Superficial listening will mostly focus on rushing the conversation to finished whereas active listening will seek to empathise and will leave the speaker feeling understood and supported.

How does Superficial listening affect communication?

Superficial listening can impact one’s relationship with the individual who is speaking to them as well as hinder various protective actions such as problem solving, developing intimacy etc. 

Between romantic partners, Superficial listening can lead to negative emotions where the partners feel isolated, misunderstood, and this can inhibit the couples ability to problem solve together in dealing with problems within the relationship. 

It can also lead to unhealthy dynamics between the partners where one feels underappreciated or the other feels more stressed; all of which can cause the relationship to deteriorate. 

When parents and children engage in this type of listening, it can get in the way of developing healthier relationships between the two- parent and children. 

When parents engage in Superficial listening it can make the children feel like they aren’t being heard and in effect make them feel like they are not important enough to be listened to- this can have a negative impact on their psychological development. 

When it comes to children, Superficial listening can impact their ability to develop a healthy relationship with their parents and their peers. It can also negatively impact their academic progress.  

Due to various distractions they have at their fingertips, such as phones, computers, social media make it extremely difficult for children and adults to develop effective listening skills- especially because this skill is not really taught through curriculum so it becomes important for parents and teachers to model this type of listening. 

How to develop effective listening?

Here are a few steps that you can take to develop an effective listening style of communication:

Pay attention to your body language

When someone is speaking to you, it is important that you are mindful of your body language when you face them and maintain eye contact. 

Another thing that you can do is to lean in towards the speaker rather than away and maintain an open posture instead of closed- like hands free rather than hands folded- these postures tend to signal people that you are open to what they have to say. 

You can also make it a point to nod along or give encouragement such as “uh-hms” or “Go on..” So that you can signal them that you are listening, these can be useful when the conversation is happening over the phone where they can see your body language. 

Be attentive, but relaxed.

The next thing that you pay attention to is how attentive you are to them and what they are saying. This does not mean that you are stiff and constricted but rather, relax your body and your mind and instead choose to focus on what is being said rather than focusing on other things. 

Mentally screen out distractions like the background, their accents, or mannerisms etc which you find distracting- let these small details go and listen to their message instead of being focused in your own internal world. 

Keep an open mind.

With an open body posture, your mind must also be open to their ideas and the message that they are trying to put across, this means that you will have to empathise first rather than respond to them. 

Empathising requires you to be non-metal and non critical of what is being sad and how you see them as a person. Even if you disagree with what they are saying, it is important that you listen to understand their point of view first before jumping into conclusions or responding. 

Don’t interrupt 

Being a listener means to listen rather than speak. This means that you have to be mindful of what is being said and at the same time, be mindful of how you respond to them. 

Make sure that you do not interrupt when they are speaking- let them get their entire point across and give them enough time to speak their mind. 

Interrupting them out across the idea that what they are saying is not important and that their ideas are not important. So remember that everyone has different styles of speaking- some might stall more, while others speak fast and clear. 

So give each individual a chance to speak their part and  take notice of how they talk and respond by giving them the time to speak as comfortably as they can and respond when you are sure that they have completely said what they needed to express. 

Don’t simpose solutions

Now, some people might speak to you to get some advice on a challenge that they are facing or to simply hear your opinion on the matter. 

In such cases you have to make it clear that your opinions are simply yours and it does not mean that they are the “right” ways of thinking or going about things. You have to make sure that you clarify that your opinion is based on your understanding and that it is perfectly okay for each of you to have different opinions. 

Another important thing for you to remember is that when you listen, do not focus on giving solutions or imposing solutions for their problems- sometimes people just need to be heard and listened to.  

So when it comes to solutions and advice, make sure that they are in a space to problem solve first rather than simply telling them your solutions. 

Reflect their feelings

If you are able to catch on what they are feeling from their words and their body language, reflect these feelings to them to help them understand that they are getting across to you clearly and that you are understanding them.

Reflect by saying something like “You seem stressed from all that is happening right now” or “What I am getting from you is that you are overwhelmed.” 

By reflecting their feelings, it can help the person speaking that they are getting their point across and that you are empathising with them.

Clarify to understand 

Ask questions between pauses to only clarify what they are saying so that you understand their position or their experiences. 

Make sure that the questions are not suggestive or leading them, instead clarify that you simply want to understand their experiences before asking questions that help you make sense of what they are saying and for this you use open ended questions that includes- “What. when, how, where, why.”


In this blog we have discussed what superficial listening is. 

We have also briefly explored what causes superficial listening, how it differs from effective listening, how it impacts communication, and how you can develop effective listening styles. 

FAQ related to Superficial Listening

What is a superficial listener?

Superficial listener is able to hear what you are saying- the content of the message- but is unable to understand the point you are trying to make- make complete meaning out of it. 

What are some examples of barrier listening?

Various barriers to listening include:

  • Judgement
  • Focusing on counterargument
  • Distractions
  • Day breaking
  • Personalising everything that is being said by the speaker
  • Being overly critical
  • Making assumptions. 

What are the 5 levels of listening?

Five levels of listening includes:

  • Ignoring Listening.
  • Pretending Listening.
  • Selective Listening.
  • Attentive Listening. 
  • Empathetic Listening.


What is Superficial listening? Answers.com. Retrieved on 1st March 2022. https://www.answers.com/Q/What_is_Superficial_listening

Listening Essentials: The importance of listening. Directutor. Retrieved on 1st March 2022. https://www.directutor.com/content/listening-essentials-importance-listening

Pseudo-Listening vs. Real Listening. SAGE. Retrieved on 22nd Feb 2022. https://edge.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/listening_section_01_module03.pdf

Stages of Listening. Indiana State University Press Site. Retrieved on 1st March 2022. 

5.5: Stages of Listening

Schilling.D. 10 Steps To Effective Listening. Forbes. Retrieved on 1st March 2022. 


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