Are You Listening or Hearing?

The saying, “In one ear, out the other” speaks to the difference between hearing and listening. One of the greatest leadership skills to develop is the ability to listen. Have you ever talked to someone who appeared to be listening to you, but in reality, you later realize they weren’t? Or have you been guilty of half listening to someone while thinking about something else.

men-not-listeningHearing and listening are often used interchangeably, but that is not accurate. Let me give you examples of hearing and listening. Hearing can happen in a split second whether it’s the sound of music or the sound of many people talking when you enter a crowded room, without knowing what exactly was being said. Hearing can happen in a split second.

Listening is an active process that involves focusing on what you hear and giving your full attention to the person who is speaking. It also requires you to understand what you’re hearing so you can process it and respond appropriately.

Hearing and listening may seem similar, but there are five key differences. First, hearing is a passive process, while listening is an active process. Second, hearing does not require understanding, but listening does. Third, hearing can happen without any effort, but listening requires concentration and focus. Fourth, hearing is simply the physical process of perceiving sound while listening involved understanding and responding to what you’ve heard. And lastly, you can hear many things simultaneously (TV, dogs barking, lawn mowers) but you can only listen to one thing at a time.

Leaders who are great listeners realize it’s not their job to agree or disagree with and it’s certainly not their job to judge. Unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes you may not be able to personally relate to something another person shares. However, when you learn to listen to “understand where another person is coming from”, you listen differently.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you listen to. This could include the people you supervise, your peers, the leaders of your company, your family, and friends. Listening effectively is a leadership skill that will help you build lifetime relationships with others. Being a great listener will enhance your personal and professional networks and will impact the level of success you achieve in your career.

Think for a moment of the best listener in your life. When I ask that question the response is normally my mom, dad, best friend, spouse, or my dog. Too often, when you’re trying to share something, the other person is quickly offering you possible solutions. However, what you were looking for was a sounding board, not necessarily their opinion or solution.

You will develop lifelong relationships in your personal and professional lives when you are respected as a great listener. Whether you are talking to a friend, co-worker, or loved one, being able to listen effectively is an important skill that can help you build and maintain strong relationships.

The following are nine tips to improve your listening skills.

1. Alleviate distractions
Put your cell phone down and give your 100% full attention and focus to the person who is speaking. This tip is effective whether you are talking in person, on the phone or online.

2. Clarify your understanding
Throughout the conversation, ask for the definition of words used so you don’t apply your definition, which could be inaccurate. When you ask for clarification of what the other person is saying, it proves to them that you are not only listening to them, but you also want to clarify your understanding of what is being said.

3. Don’t offer solutions
So often, individuals are looking for a sounding board. They want to hear themselves discuss a situation out loud but are not looking for a solution. Only provide a solution when one is requested.

4. Don’t judge
When you listen to understand where the other person is coming from, you will be much less likely to judge someone. This is extremely important when you are interacting with someone you supervise. This skill will help you build a reputation as a compassionate leader who is not judgmental.

5. Be aware of body language (in person and online)
Arms crossed may come across defensive, lack of eye contact is normally connected with not telling the truth, a tense jaw or fidgeting or redness in the neck or chest area can often indicate fear or anxiety.

When listening during zoom calls, make sure you are looking at the camera not the person on the screen, so you maintain excellent eye contact. Pay attention to what is being said, as well as what you are learning by the other person’s body language.

6. Summarize
At the end of a conversation summarize what you’ve heard to show that you were listening and that you understand where they are coming from. You could start out with the phrase, “I want to make sure that I understood what you just shared” then provide your summary to see if they agree or disagree.

7. Take and retain notes
Take brief notes to remember conversations in the future and to refer back to them during subsequent conversations. There is nothing more powerful than to read a person’s conversation back to them – again proving you were listening to what was being said. If you’ve taken action based on the conversation, start out with what they requested and then show how your actions resolved their concern.
8. Be patient
You will limit your ability to develop rapport based on trust if you rush another person’s conversation. If you make someone feel uncomfortable, it will inhibit their ability to talk to you. Don’t interrupt, don’t finish their sentences, and certainly don’t provide them with a solution.

9. Ask for their solution
If someone is discussing a problem and wants your solution, always respond with the same response, “What is your solution?” Great leaders develop their people to think for themselves. You don’t want everyone to use your brain, you want them to use their own. When you always respond with “What is your Solution” to problems, your team will learn they need to think about their solution before they ask you for yours. This helps develop your team!

Now that you understand the difference between hearing and listening, you will build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively in both your personal as well as professional life.

Barbara Bruno

Barbara Bruno

Barbara Bruno, author of HIGH-TECH HIGH-TOUCH RECRUITING: How To Attract And Retain The Best Talent By Improving The Candidate Experience, is an internationally recognized recruiting expert who has a proven track record of helping recruiters and talent acquisition professionals become more successful and less stressed. She has created several popular LinkedIn Learning courses and is president of Good As Gold Training, HR Search, Inc., and Happy Candidates.

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