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The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

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Communication is a two-way process. Many people neither listen to nor understand what another person says or feels because they do not know the difference between hearing and listening. When someone is speaking to them, they say, “I hear what you are saying” rather than, “I am listening to what you are saying.” In reality, there is a huge difference between hearing and listening.

Communication is a two way process. Many people do not listen and do not understand what the other person says or feels because they do not know the difference between hearing and listening.

Note: this article can be used as a reference for people who are working towards any qualifications in customer service, especially the NVQ Level 2 or Level 3 Diploma or Certificate in Customer Services. The article can be used as a reference for Unit A3, "Communicate Effectively With Customers."

Hearing Vs Listening: A Summary


1. A physical ability and not a conscious act (Physiological)

A skill and conscious act (Psychological)

2. Is hearing randomly

Is listening intentionally and analysing

3. Everyone who is physically able to hears

Not everyone listens

4. Perceiving sound by the ear

Making an effort to understand using reception, analysis, and interpretation.

5. Involuntary


6. You just hear sound and noise but do not understand much

You understand what is being said or heard.

7. Does not need focus

Needs focus and care

8. Hearing uses only one of the five senses.

Listening uses hearing, seeing and sometimes the sense of touch.

9. Receiving sound vibrations

Observing behaviour and adding meaning to what the speaker says

10. Passive


What is Hearing?

Hearing is an action in which a sound is perceived by the ear. Very little or no effort is required as your mind may be occupied with other thoughts or perhaps you are engaged in a different task while the other person is sharing his or her thoughts with you. This is a passive process.

Hearing in Daily Life

We hear something around us all the time.

While you are at home, you might hear the sound of other people talking, the sound of cooking in the kitchen, the sound of the television, and the sound of anything that is happening around. While you are at work, depending on where you work, you hear the sound of various things around you. While on the road you hear the sound of traffic and any events in the public, the people laughing, talking, shouting etc.

At the end of the day, after you go to bed and fall asleep, you hear sounds even while you sleep. All these happen around you, and you do not necessarily notice it. It is just sound waves reaching your ears. Hearing is an alarm system which operates even outside your immediate awareness.

This also applies to music. Nowadays music is played everywhere: in shopping malls, in restaurants, in supermarkets, in offices. Not all of us listen to that music and acquire anything from it. In a way, this devalues music. Most people use music to just fill the silence while they are doing other tasks.

Listening Process

Listening Process

What is Listening?

Listening is an action in which you choose to actively concentrate on what you hear. You need to put in a lot more effort in terms of attention, processing, thinking, and analysing. You do not think about anything else, or get engaged in any other tasks, but instead sit down and listen to what the speaker is saying. You notice the feeling and meaning of what is being said. This is an active process.

How to Listen

When you listen, you need to pay attention in order to interpret and respond. Listening is a skill that can be improved with a little bit of hard work, dedication and determination. In every relationship, we come across this complaining phrase: “You never listen” or “You do not want to listen.” Do you want that to be said about you?

Multitasking is a big culprit when it comes to people's inability to listen. For example, I'll often encounter people reading something on the Internet while someone is talking to them. I also encounter people trying to listen to someone while typing something on their computers or staring at their phones. These are common scenarios that occur in offices and personal lives almost every day. These behaviours clearly indicate a lack of respect on the part of the listener.This tells the speaker that they are less important than the work that the listener is doing, putting the speaker in an awful situation.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

— Ernest Hemingway

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How to Be an Active Listener

  • Focus on the speaker and not yourself. Keep your eyes and ears focused on the speaker without making them feel uncomfortable.
  • If speaking on the phone, concentrate by focusing at a particular spot and do not look around.
  • Provide feedback on what the speaker has said.
  • Use paraphrasing (repeating what the other person has said, but not verbatim) skills to understand the speaker’s needs.
  • When there are people who talk a lot, they can politely be informed about the limited time, and be requested to talk about their important concerns (This applies when you have limited appointment times).
  • Listen patiently to all concerns without interrupting and in the end do not forget to ask a customer if they have any questions for you.
  • Be patient when you wait for responses by maintaining silence.
  • Always keep an eye on the speaker’s body language and the tone of their voice, because these two behaviours speak a lot.
  • Write down important information in the form of keywords on a piece of paper.
  • Keep your emotions away from the situation.
  • Do not jump to conclusions before completely listening.
  • Ask the speaker to repeat if you have not understood something.

Listening Well

Why Do People Find it Hard to Listen?

Very few people have refined the ability to hear into the art of listening. People fail to listen for many reasons, including:

  • Only hearing what they expect or want to hear
  • Not being open to new ideas
  • Lacking understanding of another's situation
  • Lack of empathy about how the other person feels
  • Lacking patience to sit down and listen
  • Self-centeredness and egoism
  • Tending to be defensive
  • Spending a conversation planning what to say next instead of listening
  • Rushing through everything and not wanting to sit down for a few minutes to listen to others
  • Feeling awkward or uncomfortable with something the speaker said

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

— Stephen R. Covey


Why is Listening More Important than Hearing?

If you need to understand the importance of listening, just think for a moment. When we speak to someone, what do we expect them to do? How do we expect them to react? Treat others the same way you wish to be treated. Give your best.

How do I Listen Better?

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

— Stephen R. Covey

Listening is important because it helps you socialise and get along in a professional environment. You know what is expected of you, and you are able to resolve issues by arriving at good decisions. Listening shows people that you are interacting with them and that you appreciate and give importance to their thoughts and feelings. It helps you cooperate with other people and make decisions easily without any errors. It also shows that you are polite. Listeners understand better and are more productive. People, in general, avoid bad listeners.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

— Leo Buscaglia


Benefits of listening:

  • You are appreciated if you listen with full concentration
  • Accomplish better results quicker
  • Helps to build a better relationship, be it professional or personal
  • You gain more customers or clients as you are genuinely interested to serve them
  • Improves the quality of the company / organisation
  • You make a difference in people’s life and mind
  • You get to know customers / clients better and understand their needs
  • It helps you get into the very heart of their problems / issues
  • It helps to provide better service and produce better results
  • Customer / client expectations are met
  • Shows that we respect acknowledge and care for them
  • It delights customers / clients and shows that we are empathetic
  • You learn new information
  • You can deal with people easily
  • Everyone likes people who listen
  • Helps you develop leadership and management skills
  • Helps one to be successful in life / career by performing up to their expectations
  • Avoids misunderstandings and conflicts

Effective Listening Skills

The only similarity between hearing and listening is that you do both with the aid of ears.

Listening is very important when it comes to customer service and other professions where you have to listen to people at all times. For example, doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, counselors, journalists, interviewers, teachers, tutors, advisers etc. Almost all professions require listening skills at some point or the other. In an office and home environment, we are around people who want to be listened. It is always good to improve your listening skills and be a better listener and a better human.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Owen on March 27, 2017:

Do you have any credentials which would make you a reliable source on this information? I am using it in a research paper and need to make sure its reliable. Thanks

Aindriya Marketing Solutions Pvt Ltd from kochi on November 02, 2016:

Really wonderful.I learned a lot.

edupedia publications on October 05, 2016:

Thank you Ivan. Listening is an art. We need to learn.

aymen soudani on October 03, 2016:

Great information , really you have great Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Great hub . Thank you

Graham Gifford from New Hamphire on September 19, 2016:

This topic never gets old, truly. I think that you did an excellent job of cover the many angles of this very important distinction. Hemmingway's quote has always been one of my favorites. Most people do not listen. They merely wait until it is their "time" to speak. We would learn so much more from people if we were active listeners. Thank you.