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The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”

—M. Scott Peck

Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.” On the other hand, listening means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention, and to give consideration.”

Before we explore what hearing is in detail, do you know what kind of listener you are? If not, let’s find out.

Active Vs. Passive Listening

An active listener is someone who engages in the act of listening and responds to another person to reach an understanding. You are an active listener if you listen because you desire to learn what another is saying.


Passive listeners are the complete opposite. These individuals do not contribute to a conversation at all. This type of listening is considered a poor way to communicate with others. In families, this can present barriers in relating to one another.

How to Improve Listening Skills

We all want to be heard, but do we take much time to recognize passive listening in ourselves? According to Clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, there are ways to improve your listening skills:

•  Be curious

An active listener has a genuine interest in and a desire to understand what is being said.

•  Ask good questions

Focus on questions that invite people to elaborate.

Don’t jump into a conversation too quickly

Communication doesn’t have to be done at record speed.

•  Anchor yourself to the subject and don’t get distracted

Avoid throwing out unrelated topics or insults to distract from the subject, especially if it’s a difficult one.

•  Stop making up stories

Unfortunately, when we don’t have all the information, Gilliland says, we tend to fill in the blanks.

Don’t make a big deal out of being wrong

This should be a fairly easy tip if you’re good at admitting fault.

Can you now identify whether you are an active or passive listener? If you aren’t sure, try asking a trusted friend or relative, they may provide some insight into your communication skills.

You Might Be Hearing Me, But You Aren’t Listening to Me

Hearing concerns itself with the act of hearing distinct sounds. People often use the words listening and hearing interchangeably, but doing so is technically incorrect. The element that does not exist in hearing is concentration. We can hear sounds during the day without thinking too much about them.

Interestingly enough, one study shows that those who are physically unable to hear are more susceptible to depression, social isolation, and cognitive decline.

Not listening to someone could affect their mental health, but how? Well, a passive listener often has formulated pre-conceived ideas in their mind that make them unwilling to compromise their conceptions and listen to someone else. Mental health sufferers will take this as not being valued or heard.

The best comfort we can give someone who has mental health issues is our time, presence, and open ears. Avoid asking someone suffering from mental illness yes or no questions. Open-ended questions will allow an individual to express what is on their mind.

It’s also important to ask questions that offer clarification to show you are engaged.

How to Become a Better Listener

If you aren’t an active listener, give yourself some patience. It takes time to develop the skill. Allow yourself time to develop the skill to actively engage with others.

By actively listening and engaging with other people, we can:

• Create strong and genuine friendships

• Understand and exchange knowledge

• Share memories

• Pass on stories and ideas to the next generation

• Resolve conflicts and create better solutions for the future

The Takeaway

There are distinct differences between hearing and listening. By now, you hopefully know which of these two best describes you. If you are a passive listener, these few tips and tricks will help you become a more productive communicator and an active listener.

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