Hearing or Listening

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Lately the difference between hearing and listening has been on my mind as I’ve noticed the damage a lack of listening causes to relationships. Hearing and listening are not the same. There are some differences to understand and skills to use that will help you be a listener and not a hearer. Listeners enjoy deep relationships with less hurt and misunderstandings and strong connections. This is something all of us can benefit from. Here are the practical differences and ways to implement them in your daily conversations with others. 

When you’re listening to someone you are using empathy skills to hear the emotion and perspective that is being communicated to you. As you listen you put yourself in the other person’s place and, see and connect to the emotion that is being shared with you. Hearing is staying squarely in your comfort zone retaining your perspective, your emotions, and your reactions to what is being shared.  Hearing is still paying attention to what is being said but not doing the extra step of placing yourself in the shoes of the person speaking. The result of being listened to is feeling understood, feeling valued and connected to the person you’re talking to. Hearing feels like being dismissed or possibly invalidated.  The intention may not be to harm or hurt but by keeping distance in the relationship and not adopting the perspective of the other the net effect can feel like being dismissed. 

In a conversation when you hear the friend or spouse without listening you are giving advice or trying to tell them what to do. Listening is reflective and asks questions to clarify. Listening also reflects back the understanding of what’s been communicated so far. Some of the questions that are helpful in reflecting are: 

“What I heard you say was…” 

“It sounds like that felt…” 

“Did I hear that you (saw, felt,) … when that happened” 

The goal of listening is to understand and connect to the person who is speaking to you. Hearing is all about getting to a resolution and trying to “solve” what is being discussed rather than connecting to the person doing the communication. Hearing is about the problem; listening is about the person. 

In a conversation using empathy and reflection skills creates growth and understanding in a relationship.  When you’re in hearing mode and giving advice and keeping separation in the conversation there are many opportunities for misunderstanding and hurt feelings. All of this can be overcome in a healthy relationship, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Instead of hearing, listen. When listening there is way less opportunity for misunderstanding and invalidation. Connection and reflection skills offer many opportunities to be on the same page and prevent seeds of hurt and misunderstanding from growing. Spending too much time in “hearing mode” can shut down growth in relationships and eventually create distance. 

Healthy, strong, and fulfilling relationships are important to flourishing and well-being. All of us desire to be understood, validated and to feel like those we care for are truly listening to us. Implementing the skills of listening will grow and deepen relationships. When you listen, connect, and use empathy to be present in the conversation, use reflection and good questions to stay on the same page and maintain the connection and experience the growth that will result. 

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