What's the difference between listening and hearing? When you are quiet, people will think you are listening. But in order to hear what the other person is saying, you have to stop thinking about anything else and focus your attention on what is being said. A good listener is one who actually hears what is being said.
You can actually listen without hearing. There are several reasons for this. If you are planning your response while the other person is talking, there is no way you will hear what they are saying.
Or you may daydream while another person is talking. This happens when you are not that interested in what someone is talking about. Again, you won't be able to hear what is being said while your mind is preoccupied.
Another issue is when you don't want to hear what is being said. In this case your hearing actually shuts down so you don't have to listen to something you don't want to. This can also happen when you don't agree with the person.
Then there is selective hearing. This occurs when you only hear part of what the other person is saying. You literally select just those things you either want to hear or agree with.
Often, people aren't aware how much they don't hear what is being said. They may even believe they are listening carefully. Regardless of why someone doesn't accurately hear what another person is saying, the result is the same: a breakdown in communication.
To make it yet more challenging, even when listening intently, you tend to filter what someone is saying through your own biases. You may assume you know what someone means because you jump to conclusions before they finish talking.
You then erroneously believe you know what the other person means or how they feel. As a result, you can then formulate opinions about the other person that are not based on reality. This creates lots of stress, if not anger, between the parties involved.
In order to accurately hear what someone is saying to you, you have to endeavor to put yourself in their position and try to see things from their point of view. This doesn't mean you have to agree with them. It does mean you strive to objectively understand what they are attempting to convey.
If you accurately hear what someone else is saying, but they are not saying what they mean, it's impossible to have any meaningful communication. When you speak, don't expect others to be able to read your thoughts. Say what's on your mind. If you want someone to know what you are thinking, you have to tell them.
Good listeners become good communicators. They understand the importance of speaking clearly in an easy to understand manner. When it's hard to interpret what you mean, you greatly increase the chances of a misunderstanding.
If, after listening intently, you are unsure of exactly what the other person is saying, don't hesitate to ask for a clarification of their statements. Guessing their true meaning rarely works. Make sure your questions are sincere, not condescending or insulting.
Effective communication can only occur when each person is interested in hearing what the other is saying. Both people have to make the effort to be good listeners. This requires patience, respect, and courtesy. Productive interaction takes intention and effort on the part of everyone involved.
It's worth the effort to become a good listener. You will have less conflict, learn a lot about people, and be someone others feel comfortable talking to.
NOW AVAILABLE: "Dare to Live Without Limits," the book. Visit www.BryanGolden.com or your bookstore. Bryan is a management consultant, motivational speaker, author, and adjunct professor. E-mail Bryan at
or write him c/o this paper. 2008 Bryan Golden