• United States
Managing Editor, Network World Fusion

Hearing vs. listening

Sep 09, 20033 mins
Data Center

* Sure you hear your employees, but do you listen to them?

When it comes to the similarities between listening and hearing, the only one is you use your ears for both. After that, they’re very different. For instance, have you ever had an employee come in your office and you’re on the computer? You’re busy, you’ve got stuff to do, so while they stand there and talk to you, your body is facing the computer, your eyes are on the computer and an ear, or maybe two, is devoted to the poor soul on the other side of your desk.

Aside from the abominable body language you’re displaying (“What I’m doing on the computer is more important than you”) you’re probably not really listening to what the person’s telling you. I recently spoke with management expert Don Andersson about the difference between the two and how we can improve our listening ability.

“Most of us have been gifted with the ability to hear, but few of us have taken hearing and refined it into the art of listening,” he says. “We tend to be defensive when we hear. Most of the time we’re expecting people to say things that fit into our categories so we’re really not as open to hearing what they’re saying as we could be.”

Many times, too, as soon as the other person starts speaking, we’re busy preparing our answer before they even have 10 words out of their mouth.

“Part of the time when we listen we hear a few words and we jump into the editing room of our mind to prepare an answer before we have paid attention to everything they’re saying,” Andersson says. “Before they’re done, we respond and we’re not responding on target.”

Next time you’re in a conversation with someone, or overhearing another, see how many times one party interrupts the other before he or she is finished speaking. Check yourself if you get the urge to jump in before the other person is through. We’re such a microwave, drive-thru, high-speed society these days, we’re rush-rush-rush, even when it comes to the art of conversation.

To improve your responsive listening skills, Anderson suggests you recap what the person says after he or she is through speaking to ensure you got it right, a la, “Here’s what I’ve heard you say, tell me what I may have heard inaccurately.”

“Most people will be really open to that,” he says. “Most want to know you’ve really listened,  whether you’ve agreed or not.”

Then there’s the skill of listening for what’s not said. If you’re think a person is holding back or is not stating everything he or she wants, respond with a simple “Like…”, “Because…” or “And…”

“Frequently I can use a word like ‘because’ and shut up and listen to them,” Andersson says.

Next week, he’ll share more advice on improving your listening skills.