Hearing vs Listening… Hearing and listening aren’t the same thing. What do you mean, Tom, you may ask?

Listening skills are important in business… Actually, scratch that: IN LIFE. Yet there are still so many of us who fail to listen properly. (Myself included.)

Hearing occurs with or without your consent… Like that aggravating mutt barking its annoying little head off at 2am in the morning when you’re trying to sleep. You’re not purposely listening to the soothful sound of its penetrating bark, but you are hearing it regardless.

Hearing is just the physical measurement of the sound waves entering your eardrum which is then processed by your brain. It is how your brain processes this information that defines whether you just heard it or actually listened to what was being said.

Listening goes beyond the natural hearing process. It means paying attention to the words that are being spoken with the intention of understanding them.

Basically, you can hear something but not listen.

A good example of this happening also involves another dog barking……metaphorically. I’m talking about my ex girlfriend. OK, that was kind of mean. Her words were “I’m really mad, don’t come over.” And what I heard was “I’m really mad, don’t come over.” So I didn’t go over, because she was really mad.

But had I been listening properly and decided to use these listening skills to my full advantage, I would have worked out that what was actually being said needed de-coding. What she meant was “DO come over. If you DON’T come over I will be very mad and even more upset and it will be entirely your fault once again and you ruin everything and all men suck and you don’t care about me…” etc

Now I don’t know if this is actually a good example of listening vs. hearing or just a good example of why women are crazy and men are useless.

Maybe a good example would be the time I was in a terrible club in Exeter. Everything about it was awful: the prices were ridiculous and the people were unfriendly. Trying to crack on and have a joke with any of these country-bumpkins was just down right impossible. I think my Mancunian accent and friendly vibe was making them uneasy and wary of me. I’m from Manchester … obviously I must have been carrying a weapon. The people in this club didn’t want to listen to what i had to say, and come to think of it, they probably couldn’t even HEAR my alien accent.

BUT that isn’t even the point. The music there was so terrible and generic and soulless that when dancing (this is Exeter’s biggest dance club) i wasn’t actually listening to it at all. I could hear the oh so boring and terrible beats and was consciously forcing myself to dance to  as dancing in a dance club is the general etiquette in these places I do believe… but my mind was far away. Instead of listening to David Guetta’s “Titanium” being dropped for the third time in the space of two hours I was listening to the voice in my head… Which was something along the lines of , “this is mildly boring… my nan parties harder than this… im hungry… which pot noodle should i have when I get home?” (I choose the sticky rib one) … “When CAN we go home…”etc

…Still listening?

An example more suited to business is, for example, when arranging an interview with a candidate. The candidate might say, “I will try and make that interview Friday.” A poor listener would simply hear this and think “great, this person has an interview Friday!” A good listener would process this information and pick up on the fact this is not 100% and then maybe ask “What could stop you attending the interview? Is there anyway to avoid this?”

But also, certain things can affect the quality of your listening skills. Things such as prejudices and your perception of a person. For example, if someone is talking to you who you believe you are “above” in a social sense (not that you would EVER judge anyone that way of course) you will hear what they are saying but are less likely to actually listen to them because you do not value their opinion.

Listening is very important for business as even one bit of misinterpreted information could have disastrous consequences.

There is a further skill called “Active Listening”. This is not just the listening itself – but also understanding that communication and listening skills are a two way street. Active listening involves body language and feedback. Your body language has to show you are listening – making eye contact for example – nodding in the right places and making encouraging remarks such as ‘that’s interesting – tell me more’ or just ‘uh-huh’. This is accompanied by NOT TALKING and NOT INTERUPTING and when the other person is done – SUMMARISING. EG – ‘So, what I am hearing you say is X,Y and Z’ This shows the other person you have listened and understood and fulfils the human need (check out Maslov) of ‘significance’ – which we all have.

Finally – pretty obvious – but doing things such as looking at your watch or your phone shows you aren’t listening (or even hearing!) what they are saying.

So there you have it: listening vs hearing. I hope you’ve been LISTENING!


Tom Duffy