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The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

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Did she say high blood pressure or high cholesterol? No, I’m not losing my hearing. There were just too many things going on. I was cooking and worrying about my husband’s mysterious malaise. I wasn’t sure how the new stove worked. There were people talking in the other room. I should have asked again but plans for the following day got in the way. I was hearing, but not listening.

Yes, there is a difference between hearing and listening. We hear when sound waves strike the ear. When we listen, we find meaning in this sound.

How many times have you heard a conversation turn into a shouting match with neither person listening? So often, when another person is speaking to us we are already thinking about our response rather than listening attentively. Or, we interrupt the other speaker and take over the conversation. (Not good.) When we interrupt another person speaking, we are indicating that our thoughts and therefore we, are more important than the other.

Recently, I was at a conference where the first activity involved the audience members telling everyone what they saw in a work of art flashed onto a screen. The responses were, of course, very different from one person to the next. Yet, the moderator interpreted each audience member’s words by paraphrasing and sometimes making them clearer. She did this over and over again. She was super skilled at listening, and that takes immense concentration!

Have you ever tried it? I dare you to have a conversation where you repeat what the other person has said before you continue verbalizing your own thoughts.

So how do we develop good listening skills?

• Start by facing the other person and looking them in the eyes (unless it is culturally inappropriate.)

• Stop looking at your phone.

• Also, stop thinking about your “to do” list and give your full attention.

• Don’t make judgements or assumptions about the speaker is saying, or the speaker herself.

• Don’t interrupt or finish the speaker’s sentence.

• Don’t hijack the conversation by turning to another topic before the speaker has finished.

• Don’t ask questions that will lead the conversation in a different direction.

• DO put yourself in the speaker’s place and empathize.

• Make sure the speaker knows you are listening by an occasional “Uh Huh” or other verbal or facial indications.

• Pause after the speaker stops in order to make sure she has finished. (At least a slow one, two, three will do.)

• Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Body language such as posture, expression around the eyes and tone of voice can be very revealing.

Avida President Raul is a great listener. He asks the right questions to get to the core of the topic. He lets you know he is paying attention. He will give you feedback only if you ask for it, otherwise, he will just listen. Call him up and see for yourself.


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