Hearing VS Listening: 5 Key Differences

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Have you ever talked to someone who appeared to be listening to you, but in reality wasn't? Or perhaps you've been guilty of doing this yourself – listening with only half an ear while thinking about something else. The fact is that hearing and listening are two very different things.

Hearing and listening are often used interchangeably, but that is not accurate. While hearing is the process of perceiving sound through your ears, listening is an active skill that involves paying attention and focusing on what you hear.

What Is Hearing?

Hearing is simply the process of perceiving sound through your ears. Your ears pick up sounds and send them to your brain, which then interprets these sounds as speech or music. Hearing can happen in just a split second.

You may hear someone call your name without even looking up from what you're doing, for example. When you wake up in the morning, you may hear the birds singing outside your window. Or if you're in a crowded room, you may hear the sound of people talking and laughing all around you, without making out exactly what is being said.

In each of these cases, you are hearing the sound, but you are not necessarily listening to it.

How Do Ears Process Sound?

The ears are an amazing part of the human body. They are able to take in sound waves and turn them into electrical signals that the brain can interpret.

The ear is divided into three main parts:

  • Outer ear
  • Middle ear
  • Inner ear

The outer ear is made up of the pinna, or the visible part of the ear that you can see when you look in a mirror. The outer ear also includes the ear canal, which leads to your eardrum.

The middle ear is made up of several tiny bones that transmit sound to the inner ear.

Finally, the inner ear contains the cochlea, which is a spiral-shaped structure that converts sound into electrical signals for the brain to interpret.

So when it comes to hearing, as long as our cochlea is not damaged, we can hear without effort.

What Is Listening?

Unlike hearing, listening is an active process that involves actively focusing on what you hear and giving your full attention to the person or people speaking. It also requires understanding what you're hearing and processing it so that you can respond appropriately.

This means being able to filter out distracting noises or other sounds to fully concentrate on what you're hearing.

For example, if you hear your name being called in a crowded room, you should be able to shift your attention away from other conversations and focus on the person speaking to you. You can drown out the sound of the TV in the next room to listen to music close by.

If someone is talking to you about an important issue or problem, listening helps you understand what they are trying to communicate so that you can offer a helpful solution.

5 Key Differences between Hearing and Listening

While hearing and listening may seem similar, there are several importance differences to note:

Difference # 1. Hearing is a passive process, while listening is active.

Difference # 2. Hearing does not require understanding, but listening does.

Difference # 3. Hearing can happen without any effort, but listening requires concentration and focus.

Difference # 4. Hearing is simply the physical process of perceiving sound, while listening involves understanding and responding to what you've heard. We may hear dogs barking but listen to another person talk and respond accordingly.

Difference # 5. You can hear many things concurrently (cars, barking, TV in another room, people chatting), but can only listen to one thing at a time.

10 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

Whether you are talking to a friend, co-worker, or loved one, being able to listen effectively is an important skill that can help you build and maintain strong relationships. Here are some simple tips for becoming a better listener:

1. Pay Attention

Focus your full attention on the person speaking – put away your phone, stop what you're doing, and make eye contact. Nothing has aggravated me more or made me avoid future conversations with people than when someone completely and repetitively was distracted while I was speaking.

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Hearing and listening are often used interchangeably, but that is not accurate.

By the way, even when you are speaking to someone live online, be mindful of your eye contact. When I taught online, I often caught students in the act of being distracted by observing when their eyes were going off-screen.

2. Live in the Moment

Be present in the moment – don't let your mind wander or get distracted by other thoughts. This is difficult to do, but there are ways to train yourself to be more present. It is easier to be present if you are paying attention as noted above.

3. Have an Open Mind

Keep an open mind and try to understand what the other person is saying without judging them or jumping to conclusions.

It may be easy to jump to conclusions if you don't agree with someone or if you think they are wrong about something, but it's important to remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

Coming to the conversation with an open mind may allow you to learn something new or at least gain a new perspective. Two people may experience the same event but walk away with two different perspectives and experiences.

4. Non-verbal Signals

Like any other species, humans communicate in ways that go beyond our verbal ability. Pay attention to non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. Have you ever talked to someone that said something verbally but their face (especially their eyes) said something different?

A perfect example is when someone is in danger. Under duress, a person may say “I am alright, thanks”, but their eyes may show fear or not blink. You may notice they have a tense jaw, are fidgeting, or have redness in the neck and chest area.

This is why it is important to listen and pay attention to the entire person – you want to get the full story, not just the words they are saying.

5. Have Questions

Ask questions to clarify what you've heard and show that you're interested in what the other person is saying. By asking questions, you are indirectly letting the person know you have been listening well and seek some clarification.

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Hearing is simply the process of perceiving sound through your ears.

For example, if you are in a meeting, you may say something like, “I want to make sure I understand what you're saying. Are you suggesting we increase the budget for this project?”

6. Be Polite

Avoid interrupting or finishing the other person's sentences for them. Have you ever tried in vain to speak to someone that simply would not let you finish a sentence? It did not feel well, did it? Well, imagine the shoe on the other foot.

While some topics may make us excited and want to speak up, if you are having a real conversation with someone, it is best to let them finish before jumping in.

If you must butt in for some reason, do so politely by saying something like, “That reminds me of something”, or “Sorry to interrupt, but…”. Just try to not do so constantly.

7. Use Repetition

Practice active listening by repeating back what you've heard to show that you understand. You don't have to repeat everything word for word of course. However, you may want to repeat a key phrase or main point.

At the end of the conversation, summarize what you've heard to show that you were listening and to avoid miscommunication.

For example, you could say something like, “I want to make sure I understand everything that was said. You are suggesting we increase the budget for this project, and you also mentioned that we should think about hiring a new employee to assist with the extra workload.”

8. Give Yourself a Break

Take breaks if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or frustrated. Let's face it, some people simply talk too much and we can only listen for too long, especially if you are listening to someone who is dominating the conversation.

Our attention span has its limitations and truly listening takes effort and focus. If you are talking to a friend, don't be afraid to say, “My goodness, you're talking a mile a minute! Can we take a coffee break and come back to this topic later?”

Or if you are in a meeting or at work, you might excuse yourself to use the restroom or get a drink of water. This gives you a minute to gather your thoughts and clear your head.

9. Patience

Be patient and give the other person time to speak without rushing them. While it can be tempting to rush someone as they are speaking, this can do more harm than good.

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Listening is an active process that involves actively focusing on what you hear and giving your full attention to the person or people speaking.

When you interrupt or finish their sentences for them, you may come across as impatient, rude or even bossy. This can make the other person feel uncomfortable and inhibit their ability to communicate with you. It can also make it difficult to build rapport and establish trust.

10. Empathy

Try to empathize with the other person's point of view, even if you don't agree with it. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.

If you can see things from their perspective, it will be easier for you to understand what they are trying to communicate. This can help build rapport and strengthen the relationship.

Benefits of Good Listening Skills

As you can see, the ability to listen effectively is a valuable skill that can help you build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively with others.

Whether you're trying to resolve a conflict, get feedback on an idea, or simply deepen your connection with someone important in your life, good listening skills can make all the difference. Being a good listener is imperative in both our personal and professional lives.

In the workplace, for example, good listening skills can help you build trust, show respect for others, and improve communication with your co-workers.

In your personal life, being a good listener can make you a more supportive friend or partner and help you better understand the people you care about.

So if you want to be a more effective communicator and build stronger relationships, start by developing your listening skills today. You will be surprised how well you will strengthen your empathetic skills by doing so.

Final Thoughts on Hearing vs Listening

If you want to become a good listener and improve your communication skills, it's important to understand the key differences between hearing and listening.

With practice and focus, you can learn to listen more mindfully and effectively in any situation. Whether you are talking to a friend or co-worker, being a good listener is important.

By following these tips, you can improve your listening skills and make communication easier for everyone involved. Continue reading about how to improve your communication skills with others with the article, 15 Mindfulness Group Activities for Adults.

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