Hearing and listening, not the same

FAITH AND REFLECTION -- Robert McCloskey, suggesting that listening may be challenging, wrote "I know that you believe you understand...

FAITH AND REFLECTION — Robert McCloskey, suggesting that listening may be challenging, wrote “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Hearing and listening are sometimes used synonymously, but they aren’t the same. Hearing is a physiological process that occurs when sound induced vibrations reach the eardrum and are transmitted to the brain. Listening is a psychological procedure that takes place when the brain provides meaning to the aforementioned transmissions, resulting in a degree of understanding. Nearly everyone has the ability to hear, but many have not acquired the discipline of listening!

The fact that attentive listening is rare poses a considerable problem. Approximately 60 per cent of successful communication involves the practice of active listening…and communication is the foundational building block for relationships.

Listening can be difficult. Our thoughts move at least four times the speed of spoken words, providing opportunity for us to be AWOL in many conversations. We pay attention to facts and details, rather than ideas or feelings and much of what should be listening time is spent plotting our response. In addition, distractions surround and abound.

It is possible to develop better listening skills. The paramount issue is caring. If care and concern for others does not exist, good listening probably won’t happen. The person endeavoring to share will simply be an annoyance or encumbrance upon our schedule. Recognizing the worth, needs and feelings of others is essential. Asking God for help is beneficial.

Staying focused is indispensable. We need to pay attention and lock on to the person, their words, body language and expressions. To aid in avoiding distraction, endeavor to look at the person who is speaking. Active listening is like tuning into a radio station; we can only listen to one channel at a time.

Honesty is requisite. There is nothing wrong with asking someone to repeat or explain the last sentence, phrase or concept (unless we are doing this every 20 seconds). And integrity with respect to time is also important. An honest explanation of our time constraints with the stated desire to talk later, or connect by phone, is preferable to looking nervously and repeatedly at our watch.

A pastor found himself rushing through everything, including meals and conversations with his wife and children. One evening, his young daughter, speaking hurriedly said, “Daddy, I have to talk to you, but I promise I’ll talk fast.” Feeling guilty, he replied, “You can talk and you don’t have to talk fast; say it slowly.” The little girl replied, “Okay daddy, but then you will have to listen slowly!”

“… let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak …” (James 1:19)


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