The Distinction Between Hearing and Listening

Ever heard the phrase, “You could be hearing me, but you’re not listening to me”? The terms “hearing” and “listening,” which many people often conflate to signify the same thing. Although there are some commonalities between the two, there are also significant distinctions, with one being more active and requiring effort while the other is automatic and involuntary. Listening and hearing well are crucial to grasping communication, learning, and succeeding in interpersonal interactions.

What is hearing?

The physiological process of hearing sounds is central to the notion of hearing. Hearing is “the activity, function, or capacity of perceiving sound; specifically: the particular sense through which sounds and tones are received as stimuli,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Hearing involves the perception of sound and is a passive, physical process that only uses one sense. It is not dependent on attention. Hearing is like gathering information; even when we are not paying attention, we constantly hear noises and phrases.

What is listening?

Listening is the act of deliberately attending to sounds and words to understand their meaning and form an emotional reaction. According to Merriam-Webster, listening is the act of “hearing anything carefully.” Multiple senses are needed for the mental, active process of listening. Listening is a behavior of choice as an individual can voluntarily choose whether or not to hear. It is only an operational process if you want to do so. You may hear noises and words without paying attention to what you are hearing. The expression “in one ear and out the other” refers to hearing without listening.

Active vs. Passive Listening

There are two types of listening that may be distinguished: active listening and passive listening. When discussing good relationships between classmates, colleagues, romantic partners, friends, and family members, experts in communication often utilize these concepts.

Curiosity, drive, intention, and effort are all needed for active listening. The active listener tries to assimilate and comprehend what they are hearing to engage with the other person and participate in a meaningful discussion. In other words, if you want to understand someone else or if you want to work with them to solve an issue, you need to listen to them actively.

Passive listening is at the other extreme of the listening continuum. The listening style known as passive listening is disengaged, unfocused, and unreceptive. A passive listener lacks the motivation needed to make a meaningful conversation. A passive listener is unlikely to be open to working with the other person to find a solution since they already have an opinion. Passive listening is not an excellent way to interact with individuals you want to develop connections with.

Recognizing the distinctions between hearing and listening

  • Hearing is a passive process, but listening is an active process.
  • Hearing does not need focus or attention abilities. However, listening does.
  • Hearing is linked to disengagement, but listening relies on empathy, curiosity, and drive.
  • Listening is crucial for effective communication, although hearing is not a very good communication skill.
  • Hearing is a physical action that solely includes the ears, but listening is an internal action that involves both the mind and body.

How hearing and listening may impact our mental well-being

Lack of hearing or listening may significantly negatively impact our mental health. This is how:

No matter who we choose not to listen to—our partner, colleague, peer, friend, or child—we risk causing a split in the relationship. Because we are too busy or don’t want to hear what they have to say, we sometimes decide not to listen to others. In other words, we are diminishing this person by telling them that what they are saying and experiencing right now is unimportant. We put pressure on a relationship by either not listening to someone or listening passively, which may ultimately harm our mental health. On the other side, if we interact with people actively and listen to them, we establish an alliance, enhance relationships, and let them know they matter. It’s an excellent characteristic to actively listen to others since it may lead to numerous connections in our lives.

By actively listening and interacting with others, we can:

  • forge deep and real friendships
  • comprehend and share information
  • trade memories
  • pass on tales and ideas to the next generation
  • resolve issues and develop better solutions for the future

Our mental health may be severely impacted by hearing loss. Despite being an inactive physical process, hearing is a vital sense that helps us move and adapt to our surroundings. Losing our capacity to hear can cause social isolation and despair, even though we may still learn to listen to people without hearing (via body language and sign language). According to research, people with hearing loss experience cognitive deterioration more quickly than those with normal hearing. Adults with hearing loss are more likely to experience depression, which should be known to healthcare practitioners.

Advice for improving listening skills

Knowing the distinction between active and passive listening and hearing has given you a better understanding of listening effectively. This will help you communicate more effectively and build stronger connections with others.

Ask logical queries

Everyone has experienced sharing something with someone and getting an “okay” or “oh” in return. It is discouraging and clear that they are not interested in participating in the discussion or listening. Asking open-ended questions and showing genuine interest in the conversation are necessary for active listening. Ask meaningful questions to get additional information when someone shares something with you. You may indicate that you are actively listening and are interested in learning more by asking who, what, where, when, and how questions regarding what the other person is saying.

Wait to speak

Simply put, humans listen so that we may talk. We like hearing ourselves speak. We often talk before others have done talking. We must wait until the other person has finished speaking and shared their views before we can practice active listening. We do this by relaying on indications that someone has finished speaking.  This may be done by listening to them end a statement or an idea or observing non-verbal indicators. Consider listening as being attentive to learn. Pay attention to the words being spoken and how they are being said. Before expressing our thoughts to others, we must stop for a second.

Maintain your concentration.

Being attentive to the discussion requires blocking out other ideas and noises from your head to pay attention to what is being said. It might be challenging to stay focused during a debate, but putting your phone aside and minimizing other distractions can help you do so.

Choose your Reaction!