Hearing vs. Listening: Three Steps to Becoming a Better Listener

Hearing vs. Listening: Three Steps to Becoming a Better Listener

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When communicating with others, I most often become frustrated when I feel the person is not listening to what I am saying. No matter how I say it, how many times I say it, explain, re-explain, or give specific examples about the topic, they are hearing me and not listening to what I am saying.

They hear my words but not my message. When this happens, I feel that the person is not taking me or my statements seriously or seeing my point of view. Too often, it seems the person with whom I am speaking is merely just patronizing me by hearing what I am saying and not listening to me. When they speak with me, I feel they are talking down to me and they do not consider me their equal.

Have you ever felt this way?

Hearing vs. Listening

So many communication barriers are caused because we have a tendency to hear and not listen, and it is important to understand the difference between the two.

We hear many different sounds, but we really only listen to certain ones. Hearing is much easier than listening because hearing is an involuntary physical ability involving the ears. No conscious effort is required. As one of the five senses, hearing happens all the time and is the involuntary receiving of sound vibrations or waves through our ears.

On the other hand, listening is an active process and uses the senses of hearing, seeing, or sense of touch. It is a skill that requires letting the sound go through your brain, understanding what has been heard, and processing its meaning. As a listener, you choose what you want to hear and understand the information with both your mind and body. For listening to occur necessitates the listener?s interest, involvement, the use of conscious effort, and is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

Here is another way to look at it:


  • Easy: accidental; automatic.
  • Passive: involuntary; effortless.
  • Physical Function: involves the ears.


  • Hard: requires practice and being alert.
  • Active: a conscious effort; requires focused involvement.
  • Internal Behavior: involves mind and body.

There are many reasons why we have a tendency to hear, rather than listen, in a conversation.

  1. Too busy preparing a response. Many of us would rather talk than listen. In some conversations, we are too busy making our defense or preparing a response that we do not listen to what the speaker is saying.
  2. Too distracted. Our thought speed is greater than our listening speed. How many times have we been on a phone call and simultaneously checking our emails, cleaning the house, ironing clothes, etc.? Though we might hear what is being said, we cannot really listen while multitasking.

The Foundation of Effective Communication

Listening is the foundation of all effective communication. When we do not listen, messages are easily misunderstood; and, a result, the speaker can easily become frustrated or irritated.

When we truly listen and say, ?And how does that make you feel?? the speaker feels that you ?get them,? and it is those connections that build long-lasting relationships with others. If you would like to develop your listening skills in order to better connect with and learn from the person you are in conversation with:

  1. Focus on finding meaning in what you hear. Think of listening as paying attention to learn. Concentrate on the words that are spoken, understand information through your involvement in the conversation, and be alert to how the words are spoken.
  2. Do not interrupt. Avoid finishing sentences for or talking over the person who is speaking.
  3. Ask open-ended questions. Listening requires being at a highly-involved level. By asking who/what/where/when/how questions that pertain to what the speaker is talking about demonstrates that you are listening and want to learn more.

Are you hearing or listening during a conversation? Let me know in the comments below!

Dr. William Lane is a special educational consultant, academic coach, international speaker, and best-selling author whose passion has always been improving the lives of those with special needs. A subject expert in verbal and non-verbal communication skills, Dr. Lane works with individuals who have been diagnosed or are self-diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to help develop effective interpersonal communication skills in order to increase success in and quality of life.

Connect with Dr. Lane on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.


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