The difference between listening and hearing

I know a lot of people who are smart, funny, creative, and in many ways fascinating and who simply don’t know how to have a conversation. It’s a situation I find quite painful.

Here’s what happens: When I toss out a story, idea, or opinion to them, it seems simply to drop at their feet. They don’t even try to pick it up. Often, after I have tossed that conversational ball, there’s an awkward pause as the other person considers what to say next. Then, unless I fill the chasm of silence, they will just carry on with what they want to say, and it usually has nothing whatsoever to do with my offering.

These people are hearing, but not listening. Listening is a game of catch. I say something and then you respond. Then I respond to you. It’s actually pretty easy. Here are a few tips I myself have picked up over the years from the great listeners I know:

1—When the other person is talking, look for enticing little tidbits you’d like to know more about and then ask them about that. There’s always something.
2—Listen for a  point of view that you agree with or disagree with, then venture that.
3—Mirror back to the other person what you hear. This does not mean analyzing what they say or giving advice. It just means letting them know you’ve really heard them.
4—Pay attention to how something they say elides with something that arises in you… and when you speak, pointedly make the connection.

In a great conversation, the people engaged lose themselves in the ocean of topics and ideas. You hop on one and ride it for a while to see where it goes, and eventually it slides up close to another topic that you can ride for a while.

2 thoughts on “The difference between listening and hearing”

  1. The art of conversation largely left with the dissolution of respect for manners. A person used to be valued for their attentiveness, their anticipation of someone’s needs, and witty or insightful responses to the content of the topic. A person who couldn’t avidly participate in conversation was considered often ill mannered or boorish. Uncaring is really the root.

    You are correct. Not many know how to listen because they don’t know how or because they don’t value it. Sound bites and one upping remarks are routine. If we had to learn, if it was expected, we would. The motivation will have to come from awareness, for those who value others, instead.

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