Hearing Isn’t Listening

Just because you’ve been blessed with the sense of hearing does not mean you’ve been blessed with the skill of listening. 

Hearing is in fact one of the five senses. It is merely the act of perceiving sound and receiving sound waves or vibrations through your ear. Unless you’re hearing impaired you likely take that ability for granted. You also seldom stop to think about the difference between hearing someone speak and actually listening to what was said. 

The failure to understand that difference is often a fatal mistake for new and emerging leaders.

Listening is the act of hearing a sound and actually understanding what you hear. It usually requires more than just the sense of hearing. Great communicators are great listeners, they use the sense of hearing, seeing, and sense of touch. 

Great communicators know that listening is a skill that requires you to stop talking long enough to let the sound you hear go through your brain so it can process the meaning of it. 

The best communicators are active listeners. Active listening means also observing what you hear, like the speaker’s body language and emotions, in order to better understand what the speaker is truly saying. 

When we fail to listen we lose the ability to understand and interpret what was said. When we fail to listen we create a communication “gap” and we often fill that gap with our personal bias, judgements and experiences. That’s where the “you said this, no I didn’t” arguments usually come from. 

Hearing will never build a relationship with anyone. If you want to build relationships with anyone you’ll need to listen to them. When people know you’re interested enough to truly listen to them then they will know enough to know that you also truly care.

And oh by the way, don’t kid yourself; if you’re talking you’re most certainly NOT listening.

20 thoughts on “Hearing Isn’t Listening

  1. Great post Steve. Caveat to this for the quiet types. The one’s who are already quiet might get the impression they need to be even MORE quiet and listen even harder. For those types, I’d encourage them to speak up and ask questions. (to check understanding) Although I do recognize this isn’t exactly easy for everyone to do.

    The most difficult challenge or most of us dwells in the pesky land of assumptions! : )

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

    1. Oh boy have I ever been guilty of that assumptions things. You make a great point, active listening requires that we at least talk some if only to verify we’re accurately understanding what we heard.

  2. Too many “listeners” are merely waiting for their turn to talk. Effective listening is interactive. Thanks for reminding us of the advantages of moving beyond hearing!

  3. Here’s an acronym I use for myself, clients, and coach mentees:

    W.A.I.T. which stands for Why Am I Talking

    The next time you want to open your pie hole, though you know down deep to keep it closed, think of W.A.I.T.

    Great one for sales reps.

    We talk too much because we’re trying to justify our value to the situation.

    You can add more value by being a silent, a little while longer.

  4. I used to work for a company where it seemed that every Vice President would mouth the refrain “I hear ya bruther” ad nauseum….when you knew they had not listened at all

    1. That’s a great example, my experience is that when someone has an instant answer it’s very likely that they listen to respond rather then listen to understand.

  5. Hi Steve,

    I just found this article via Twitter. I used to be so guilty of not listening. It is amazing how much more respect people have for you once you start listening rather than talking. People just seem to like you more.


  6. excellent, I listened. It’s surprising how often a listener is taken as a non-interactive person. Most meetings have everyone waiting to express THEIR right opinion, and often it is so entertaining just to sit back, listen and watch everyone pushing. Some in the meeting will walk away saying “he sure is quiet and non-communicative” while I might be the ONLY one in the meeting that tried to listen to everyone. the old slippery slope once again…

    1. Great point, it really does require confidence to simply “listen” in a meeting environment. I think it was President Lincoln who said, “I’d rather remain silent and be thought a fool then speak out of turn and confirm the fact” – too bad more of us don’t have the confidence of Lincoln 🙂

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