Hearing and Listening: Yes, there’s a difference

I’m starting to think that a good number of people believe that the two are interchangeable. They’re not, trust me. When we or someone close to us is going through a hard time with something, I really believe that listening > hearing.

“Hearing” someone means that you’re aware of the noises that are coming out of their mouth or shapes coming from their hands or screen and you can translate them into words. That’s it. Any attempts to understand, sympathize or empathize with the other person is little to “huh, what?”. Someone who is only hearing you might:

  • Give unsolicited advice
  • Give generic responses
  • Repeatedly ask questions to something that’s already been mentioned
  • Interject with their response or advice.
  • Quickly make assumptions, etc.

“Listening” to someone requires not just hearing someone speak but paying attention to their word use, body language, emotion in their voice/hands/screen and taking their personality into account. Examples of someone who is listening can include:

  • Asking detailed questions regarding what you said
  • Allowing for pauses after you talk or not saying anything at all
  • Showing comfort in your love language
  • Asking what can they do to help
  • Showing a desire to learn more about how you see things, etc.

Hearing someone is easy. We do it all the time in our daily interactions with people. For example, when someone asks, “How are you?” we promptly respond with some variant of, “Good. And you?” and let it be. The problem with it is that it’s impersonal, it opens the door for misunderstanding others and wastes time. And we all know that those aren’t good foundations for building positive relationships.

Truly listening to someone is work and takes practice. But the new knowledge and strengthened relationship is worth it in the end. Plus it makes people feel better. But let’s say that you don’t like or agree with what they’ve expressed. Look at it this way, you now know a little more about them. With that new bit of information that you’ve learned, you also have the ability to fill in a tiny piece of the puzzle of humanity.

“But Barb, I don’t want to take the time to listen. It’s too much work.” If that’s the case, then ask yourself, “Why not? What do you have to lose by listening?” Listening isn’t only good for improving friendships and romantic relationships, it can also put you ahead at work… especially if you work in retail or sales. I don’t know about you but if I need to talk to a store associate, I’d rather talk to someone who’s going to listen to me and make suggestions based off of what I say and not what they want to sell.

I believe that certain societal tensions can be eased or eliminated if all parties were willing to truly listen to each other. Don’t get me wrong, the act of hearing has it’s place. Just not in conversation with others. So the next time someone close to you is opening up about something, try honing your listening skills. You may learn something new.

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