If you ask most people if they are good listeners, they will confirm that they listen to everyone. What they really are referring to is their ability to hear.
While hearing and listening may seem like they serve the same purpose, the difference between the two is fairly significant. You can hear birds singing and you can hear water trickling from a stream. You can also hear a person speaking to you, but did you know that although you can hear them speaking, you may not be listening to them. It’s in this moment that hearing vs. listening can really hold you back.
We’ll go over some of the key differences, and we’ll share tips on how to improve your active listening skills.
The difference between hearing vs. listening
Hearing is rather basic and simple. It’s the ability to perceive sounds. Listening on the other hand means to pay attention to sound; to hear something with intention and to give consideration.
Let’s dig a bit deeper on the difference between listening and hearing
When it comes to listening, we can break it down a bit further. When communicating, there are two terms experts may use: active vs. passive.
Active listening is what the Institute for Health and Human Potential refers to as: curious learning. Active listening/curious learning is a way of listening to someone else and improve on mutual understanding.
Passive listening is a listener who isn’t trying to contribute to a conversation.
How you can be better at active listening
Now that you understand the difference between listening and hearing, as well as the difference between being an active listener vs. being a passive listener, you are ready to learn how to be a better active listener.
#1 Be a curious learner
An active listener needs to be curious and ask questions to understand what is being said. When you’re interested in listening and learning more, rather than formulating your own response.
#2 Ask questions
This may require some brain retraining. Avoid asking questions that are a ‘yes’yes or ‘no’no answer. Instead, try asking open ended questions that require a response. This means to try to focus on questions that require people to elaborate. When we listen, and gather as much information as possible, we can move things forward much more easily.
#3 Slow down
Communication doesn’t need to be quick and run at high speed. When speaking to someone, slow down, and ease into the conversation.
#4 Pay attention to their (and your) body language and tone
Active listeners observe others’ body language and tone. Even if you are on a conference call, a change in someone’s voice may be a clear indicator that you may need to go back to step #1 and start again.
It’s good practice to occasionally summarize others’ comments. Repeating, in your own words, what someone has told you. It’s a good way to confirm that you are listening and also provides an opportunity to ask more questions (if needed).
By following these 5 steps, you’ll get far better results during most any conversation.