Are hearing and listening the same thing?
Before you answer, consider how strange swapping out these words can seem:
“Listen Hear up, everyone!”
“You could hear listen to a pin drop”
“Listen to Hear reason!”
If those tweaked phrases feel a bit off to you, you’re not alone – but why? What’s the big difference between hearing and listening anyway?
Simply put: Hearing is the basic work your ears do every day; perceiving sound waves as they come your way.
Listening, on the other hand, requires concentration. It takes hearing one step further, allowing your brain to process meaning from the sounds all around you.
Think of it this way: You might (unfortunately) hear corny background music playing on your elevator ride to the office. On the other hand, you would likely take the time and focus needed to sit down and really listen to your favorite band’s new album, using your brain to fully understand lyrics and dissect its production.
The difference between hearing and listening can make or break success at any job. Just like tuning out your elevator’s muzak, simply hearing requests from coworkers and managers does not give you the full information needed to achieve your goals.
With that in mind, here are some tips for going from passively hearing, to actively listening:
Start Fresh/Say Yes
Starting a conversation with a clean slate is extremely important when focusing on active listening. Rather than attempting to shoot down ideas with negative replies, providing opinions or jumping to conclusions, do your best to thoughtfully consider the other person’s full thoughts.
Full Body, Big Picture
Surprisingly, the words themselves don’t really matter all that much. In fact, research has shown that only a measly seven percent of our understanding of what’s being said comes from the actual words being spoken! Thirty-eight percent of our understanding comes from how the words are said, and over half of our understanding comes from interpretation of facial expressions.
With so much more detail being expressed in the “how” than the “what” of a conversation, it’s extremely important to be aware of body language as both an active listener and a speaker. When trying to openly communicate, do your best to maintain open body stances and avoid closed-off, negative non-verbal actions.
Phones and other digital devices have opened up a new, exciting world of communication. However, it’s important to remember that our attention can suffer when multiple machines are competing for our eyes and ears. To truly listen, devote all of your attention to that one person – whether it be over the phone, via an online video session or in person.
Check-In Along the Way
Communication is never a one way journey; rather, it’s a constant exchange of information and interpretations. As an active listener, it’s key to let the speaker know that you’re engaged and understanding throughout the conversation.
There are a few methods that allow listeners to check-in with speakers, without derailing the conversation with personal biases or negative commentary. Paraphrasing, or a simplified summary of what was just said, allows you to do just that. Reflecting or mirroring the other person’s point is another way to get on the same page, “So what you’re saying is…” In more detailed situations, such as presentations, keeping notes can also be helpful, but keep in mind that the other person is most important; do not get lost in your notes!
The next time you find yourself tuning out, try boosting your listening by getting active! Do you have any secret tricks for maintaining focus as a listener? Let’s hear them below!