There is a Real Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Written by Judith Sherven, PhD and James Sniechowski, PhD

sexlove_listeningHearing takes place when something disturbs the atmosphere and that disturbance takes the form of pressure waves that strike our ear drums as sound.

It’s the way we perceive sound.

Listening is different. It expands on hearing when we pay attention to the meaning of what we hear. For example, a truck just rolled by on the road in front of our house. I (Jim ) heard the noisy rumble, knew what it was, and after that paid no attention whatsoever.

We do that when we’re merely hearing the words someone else is speaking. They’re just vibrations in the atmosphere. We nod, smile, perhaps even respond, but are we listening? Hardly.  Listening requires that we open to the meaning of the other person’s words, that we — in a very real way — enter into the experience those words are meant to convey.

It’s no longer just about sound but about the thoughts, feelings, point of view, expectations, memories, sensations, beliefs — the whole of the other person — or at least as much of the whole as is available in the moment.

Wanting to be understood

One simple way to understand listening is to ask yourself — what do I want from the other person when I want to be understood? What we want most is to be appreciated. Not just heard, technically, but to feel like the other person gets us.

In his book “Stranger in a Strange Land“, Robert Heinlein coined the word “grok.” It’s pronounced GRAHK, and it means to understand something so well that you fully absorb it into yourself.  You know it through and through. You get it.

That’s how we feel when we travel. We grok each other. Therefore there’s no need for many words because we hear and listen — body and being.

Listening is not automatic.

It takes practice.

It takes intention.

The most important quality of listening is that you allow yourself to step aside and be mindful of the other’s experience. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon your own point of view.  You merely set it aside for the time you are listening so you can be available to what wants to be communicated.

When you listen, truly listen, the rewards are immediate.  Because the better you listen the better you are appreciated. The better you appreciate the other. The better you are connected. The better your relationship.

Relinquish your defenses

One simple and effective way to practice listening is to relinquish your defenses. It goes like this:

When you feel like you need to protect yourself from something your partner is saying or something your partner wants from you that’s the time to relax your point of view and listen. We know that sounds counter-intuitive. But it works.

We’re not saying you have to abandon what you’re feeling or thinking. Not at all. In fact you shouldn’t, because that would mean an abdication of self which leads to resentment and usually blaming the other. What you do is relax and just listen to your partner’s point of view.

What you will find is that he or she has some truth to what he or she is saying or wanting.  Also, because you’re feeling defensive, some part of your position is flawed.  If it weren’t, you wouldn’t feel vulnerable and under threat and needing to defend yourself against you partner.  After all, if you were in the right, there would be no need for concern.

But defensiveness is always an indication that something about your point of view is not quite on point.

When you open to your partner, you can discover what it is about your position that needs to change — for your own empowered growth AND the betterment of your relationship. And that’s the reward.

You haven’t lost — even if your partner gets what he or she wants — because the change benefits you and it’s for the betterment of your relationship. Listening is about dialogue. And dialogue is about connection. And connection fosters deeper intimacy and a closer bond. And it’s ultimately very romantic.

Start practicing today and let us know what happens!

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6 Responses to “There is a Real Difference Between Hearing and Listening”

  • Mark R says:

    What is the difference between perceived defensiveness, which women often perceive out of their mate when in conversation, and how men try to solve problems by offering advice or personal experience when the woman of the species is looking for her man to “listen” or to see it from her perspective? I find that this piece is written from a woman’s perspective, whereas I prefer this other piece, which I feel is more balanced: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/04/01/6-ways-men-and-women-communicate-differently/

    Men and women have very different styles of communicating and most men think responses out in their heads well before speaking, whereas some women just want they man to sit quietly and not respond with solutions. Often women want their man to somehow see things from the woman’s perspective and yet most men can only see things from their own perspective. Sure I can see that she is upset, and I try to offer solutions, and experience, and I am regarded as an idiot for doing so and failing to listen enough to see it her way.

    I would like to see you write another piece on this subject after digesting what is written on the other website. I feel that it might be helpful with what I am trying to deal with in my own relationship right now. I am not being defensive, I am just trying to solve the problem, and I get the idea that she doesn’t want to solve the problem, nor does she want my advice or personal experience either.

    I am just supposed to be able to listen and see it from her perspective as if somehow that will solve the problem.

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Hi, Is it clearer if that sentence ends with “whatsoever” instead of “whatever”? What the author is trying to say here is that he hears the truck go by and then he stops listening to it, it he pays no attention to it at all. When he just hears the truck, he here’s it and moves on, doesn’t give it another thought. If he was listening, he would hear the truck, think about what it means, or react to it or respond to it. That’s the difference between hearing and listening, listening involves a response.

    I’ve made the edit to the end of that paragraph. Odds are good that if it was unclear for you it’s been unclear for others as well, so thank you for bringing it up.

  • 8,1,14,14,9,1 says:

    the listening and hearing thing makes no senced because it says whatever at the end of the listening paragraph

  • B. Miller Brenda says:

    David, in order to be able to help you with your question, we would have to know the specific question. There are many different aspects to communication, and I am unclear as to what you are asking. Is the question to explain five differences in styles of communication? differences in problems with communication? approaches to solving communication difficulties? Please clarify what you need information on, David. Thank you.

  • David Ndurya says:

    You have not given enough differences because I have come across a question which required five explained differences.I don’t know the approach of such question.
    Thank you.

  • elvis molope says:

    you got it all mr speaker

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