Can you explain the difference between hearing and listening? Is the variance solely a definitional nuance or are these different functions? The dictionary offers these descriptions:
- Hear – to perceive with the ear a sound made by someone or something.
- Listen – to give one’s attention to a sound; to take notice of and act on what someone says; to make an effort to hear something; to be alert and ready to hear.
Clearly listening is the next step beyond hearing. When one is listening the brain engages to discern the distinction between sounds, to organize them into a useful stream, and to distill any applicable information from the flow. That process is much harder to master than it is to describe.
Most of us freely admit we can and should improve our listening skills. A web search will uncover scads of advice on how to become a better listener, but before we start surfing let’s consider this question, “What makes listening so difficult for me?”
Looking for a solution before we understand the problem to be solved seems illogical as Mr. Spock would say. Make a list and check it twice. If it helps here’s a partial list of what I’ve learned about my roadblocks to effective listening.
Other pressing matters
I’d love to float lazily atop 5000 words on the social benefits of mauve versus pink as a color, but right now the toilet is overflowing. My brain places sensory inputs in prioritized order and water flowing indoors shoots straight to the top. All available computing power has been redirected to saving the ship. Your message is important, but please, resend later.
Too many words
If the speaker is blasting along at warp seven, and I as the listener can process forty words a minute, the buffers are going to overflow. The important sections of the verbal deluge will be lost in space. The available bandwidth cannot be increased by waving of hands, increasing the volume, or talking faster.
Same message repeated for the hundredth time
My dad loved this one, “If’ I’ve told you once I’ve told you…” I am too quick to hear a snippet of a conversation, analyze the partial message, and dismiss it with, “OK, I’ve heard this before. Nothing new. Move on.” I will confess that I’m struggling mightily with today’s popular 7-11 worship song format (seven words repeated eleven times). “I think God heard us the first eight times, bud. Can we skip to the next verse?”
The menace of multitasking
I often watch TV by intermittently listening while I work on other tasks. The TV is not expecting a response from me, though. One speaking to me will likely be put out if I check email, catch the latest stupid pet clip on Facebook, or continue reading my book.
My perceived value of the speaker’s message
I screen my phone calls, and I hide from certain people. Stop judging! You probably do the same. Some people want to bend my ear, blather along for forty-five minutes without pausing, and say very little. I’ve lost an hour by the time I reacquire my original context and return to the activity already in progress. I know it’s not a loving display of kindness when I see the number on the display or see the face approaching my personal bubble and think, “Oh, pooh. It’s Jabber Jaws!”
Ignorance of the benefits of listening
The older I get the more I realize how little I know. I’ve learned that I can glean a great deal of knowledge if I take time to listen. I can connect to useful wisdom, and a substantial return on the investment of my time waits if I don’t shut my ears too soon.
The Israelites, slaving under the Egyptian sun to bake Pharaoh’s bricks, needed some encouragement. Moses informed Israel (Exodus 6) that God was working a plan, and God’s message to the suffering people included these juicy morsels.
- I have heard your groaning.
- I have remembered My covenant.
- I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
- I will deliver you from bondage.
- I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.
- I will take you for My people.
- I will be your God.
- I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- I will give it to you for a possession.
Moses delivered the message, but the listeners failed to receive. Why?
So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage. Exodus 6:9 NASB
The Hebrew word translated as listen means to hear intelligently or to perceive. The Israelites didn’t. Their looming troubles blocked the message of encouragement. They missed it.
Before we can grasp the speaker’s intent we have to do our homework. We have to be honest with ourselves about why our listening circuits are broken. And we have to make repairs as needed. Who knows what valuable data we’re missing?
We’d love to read your comments. What makes listening so difficult for you?