Are we hearing or listening?

We often say or are told, “Tell me I am listening,” while we or the person attending to us is on the phone or laptop. We may appear to be listening to the other person,
Are we hearing or listening?

We often say or are told, “Tell me I am listening,” while we or the person attending to us is on the phone or laptop. We may appear to be listening to the other person, but when the person asks us something related to the context, we are not able to answer.

We already have the reply or the advice in our minds, even when the other person is still sharing.

American Psychologist Carl Rogers has beautifully shared, “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet, listening of this very special kind is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

Being mindful of semantics can give us a better idea of communication. Listening and hearing are often used synonymously but in reality, they are very different from each other in both characteristics and the effect it creates. Let’s reflect, who would you like to share your concerns and ideas with, a person who is attentive towards you and makes you feel understood or a person who is multitasking while you are talking? So, let’s understand the difference between listening and hearing.

Listening requires much deeper attention, concentration and empathy which lead to better understanding. It is an active process and is intended to develop a psychological interpretation of sounds received. It makes the other person feel attended to, respected and understood which can contribute in developing both personal and professional relationships. It helps in building a relationship of comfort and understanding which enables a person to share even the otherwise difficult thoughts and emotions. Listening is non-judgemental and is not tainted by preconceived notions. Active listening also involves occasional responding or reflecting verbally or non-verbally to the other person to communicate that he/she is heard. It is said that 55 per cent of communication is nonverbal and so in active listening the body language of the person speaking is also focused on e.g. expressions, hand gestures, postures etc. To eliminate confusion, active listening also involves asking questions in a non-interfering way to have a better understanding. Active listening helps people feel emotionally supported and thus can strengthen our bonds with family, colleagues and people we are connected to. In case of children, they may need a longer time to articulate and communicate whatever they want to share. In such situations patient listening is the key. Instead of viewing it as a tedious task, accept it as an opportunity to build a stronger bond of trust, safety and love with your child. In addition to enriching the relationship, it also helps in building the child’s confidence in communicating his thoughts and emotions. Listening without interruption and advice can alone be therapeutic at times.

Hearing is a physiological passive activity of receiving vibrations of sounds through the ears. It doesn’t intend to have a deeper understanding and doesn’t require attention, concentration and conscious effort. It does not convey respect, support and unconditional acceptance. In hearing, often we may not even be aware of the sounds received. A person in distress doesn’t feel understood and acknowledged when we only hear them and thus there is a high probability of the communication not being fruitful, comforting and potent for change.

It is also important to focus on the fact that as human beings we all have our limitations. We may not always have enough time and cognitive resources to practise active listening. In such times, it is better to communicate that with the other person and connect at a later time (only if the person doesn’t need immediate assistance) instead of just hearing and getting over the task of attending to the person.

It is very rightly said, “Hearing is through ears and listening is through mind”. As mentioned by Carl Rogers listening can have a pivotal role to play in bringing about change. Let us ask ourselves, “Am I hearing or listening?” as active listening with respect, attention and empathy can contribute in saving relationships and even lives.

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