The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Communication is a two-way process. Many people neither listen to nor understand what another person says or feels because they do not know the difference between hearing and listening. When someone is speaking to them, they say, “I hear what you are saying” rather than, “I am listening to what you are saying.” In reality, there is a huge difference between hearing and listening.

Communication is a two way process. Many people do not listen and do not understand what the other person says or feels because they do not know the difference between hearing and listening.

Note: this article can be used as a reference for people who are working towards any qualifications in customer service, especially the NVQ Level 2 or Level 3 Diploma or Certificate in Customer Services. The article can be used as reference for the unit below:

Hearing Vs Listening: A Summary


1. A physical ability and not a conscious act (Physiological)A skill and conscious act (Psychological)2. Is hearing randomlyIs listening intentionally and analysing3. Everyone who is physically able to hearsNot everyone listens4. Perceiving sound by the earMaking an effort to understand using reception, analysis, and interpretation.5. InvoluntaryVoluntary6. You just hear sound and noise but do not understand muchYou understand what is being said or heard.7. Does not need focusNeeds focus and care8. Hearing uses only one of the five senses.Listening uses hearing, seeing and sometimes the sense of touch.9. Receiving sound vibrationsObserving behaviour and adding meaning to what the speaker says10. PassiveActive

What is Hearing?
Hearing is an action in which a sound is perceived by the ear. Very little or no effort is required as your mind may be occupied with other thoughts or perhaps you are engaged in a different task while the other person is sharing his or her thoughts with you. This is a passive process.

Hearing in Daily Life
We hear something around us all the time.

While you are at home, you might hear the sound of other people talking, the sound of cooking in the kitchen, the sound of the television, and the sound of anything that is happening around. While you are at work, depending on where you work, you hear the sound of various things around you. While on the road you hear the sound of traffic and any events in the public, the people laughing, talking, shouting etc.

At the end of the day, after you go to bed and fall asleep, you hear sounds even while you sleep. All these happen around you, and you do not necessarily notice it. It is just sound waves reaching your ears. Hearing is an alarm system which operates even outside your immediate awareness.

This also applies to music. Nowadays music is played everywhere: in shopping malls, in restaurants, in supermarkets, in offices. Not all of us listen to that music and acquire anything from it. In a way, this devalues music. Most people use music to just fill the silence while they are doing other tasks.

What is Listening?
Listening is an action in which you choose to actively concentrate on what you hear. You need to put in a lot more effort in terms of attention, processing, thinking, and analysing. You do not think about anything else, or get engaged in any other tasks, but instead sit down and listen to what the speaker is saying. You notice the feeling and meaning of what is being said. This is an active process.

How to Listen
When you listen, you need to pay attention in order to interpret and respond. Listening is a skill that can be improved with a little bit of hard work, dedication and determination. In every relationship, we come across this complaining phrase: “You never listen” or “You do not want to listen.” Do you want that to be said about you?

Multitasking is a big culprit when it comes to people's inability to listen. For example, I'll often encounter people reading something on the Internet while someone is talking to them. I also encounter people trying to listen to someone while typing something on their computers or staring at their phones. These are common scenarios that occur in offices and personal lives almost every day. These behaviours clearly indicate a lack of respect on the part of the listener.This tells the speaker that they are less important than the work that the listener is doing, putting the speaker in an awful situation.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

— Ernest Hemingway

How to Be an Active Listener
Focus on the speaker and not yourself. Keep your eyes and ears focused on the speaker without making them feel uncomfortable.
If speaking on the phone, concentrate by focusing at a particular spot and do not look around.
Provide feedback on what the speaker has said.
Use paraphrasing (repeating what the other person has said, but not verbatim) skills to understand the speaker’s needs.
When there are people who talk a lot, they can politely be informed about the limited time, and be requested to talk about their important concerns (This applies when you have limited appointment times).
Listen patiently to all concerns without interrupting and in the end do not forget to ask a customer if they have any questions for you.
Be patient when you wait for responses by maintaining silence.
Always keep an eye on the speaker’s body language and the tone of their voice, because these two behaviours speak a lot.
Write down important information in the form of keywords on a piece of paper.
Keep your emotions away from the situation.
Do not jump to conclusions before completely listening.
Ask the speaker to repeat if you have not understood something.

Why Do People Find it Hard to Listen?
Very few people have refined the ability to hear into the art of listening. People fail to listen for many reasons, including:

Only hearing what they expect or want to hear
Not being open to new ideas
Lacking understanding of another's situation
Lack of empathy about how the other person feels
Lacking patience to sit down and listen
Self-centeredness and egoism
Tending to be defensive
Spending a conversation planning what to say next instead of listening
Rushing through everything and not wanting to sit down for a few minutes to listen to others
Feeling awkward or uncomfortable with something the speaker said
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.