Theoretically, we know that listening and hearing are two different words, that they mean different things. However, the fact that this key difference can make or break a conversation eludes most of us. In our continuing series on how to listen effectively, today I bring you insights into one of the LearnEd teaching modules. The difference between hearing and listening lies in the process that one follows when dealing with sound stimuli.
Simply put, we hear the sound of the traffic, but we listen to someone speaking to us. We hear the sound of the fridge in the kitchen, but we listen for the pressure cooker whistle. However, when the sounds of the fridge seem abnormal and we go to check on it, we have listened to it. Let’s break this down further, see what this process of listening entails:
The process of Listening follows as such:
- Hearing: This is when we receive raw data; the sound of someone’s voice, the sounds from a TV or a voice on the radio. We hear this data and it enters our sound canal, as the first step of the process of listening.
- Selecting: This step includes the choosing of which stimulus you want to react to, and what you want to do with it. In a kitchen full of noises, when you select to listen to the pressure cooker, that is an example of this step.
- Attending: When we choose to focus on a selected stimulus and attend to it, we are at the third step of the listening process. You decide to give your focused attention to a person speaking to you.
- Understanding: When we listen carefully, we understand with focus what the other person is saying, and we assign meaning to the sounds that we are processing. We decipher their verbal and non-verbal cues and find a meaning in the context.
- Evaluating: We often say that not everything is spoken out loud. That particular idea resides in this step of the process. Here, we analyse what is being said, interpret what lies behind the meaning and clearly judging what is being implied.
- Remembering: This is an interesting step. When we listen, we rely heavily on our memory to make connections, trying to understand if what we’re listening to is related in some way to something we already know, or if it is a fresh topic altogether.It helps us contextualise what we know and what we are taking in.
- Responding: Once we make all the connections, analyse what has been said, when then choose how to respond best, essentially giving feedback to what we have listened to.
Steps 1 and 7 are just hearing and responding, however, when steps 2-6 are incorporated, we listen.Without the entire flow, we are merely hearing things. What is fascinating about this entire process is that, in an ideal situation, all seven steps occur within a second of hearing something! For most people though, we hear 100% of what is said, process only 50% of it, and respond to just 25%. When there is a break in any of the steps mentioned, a break in listening occurs, which we know as “communication gap” or “miscommunication”.
If you think that you are absolutely not used to thinking and listening in this way, worry no more! This process doesn’t have to come naturally hardwired into your brain. With conscious thought and enough practice, it is possible to cultivate this process in your everyday listening and communication. At LearnEd, we dedicate a lot of time to doing just that with our clients. After all, communication is just as much about listening as it is about speaking.