Do you Hear or Do You Listen?

Is there a difference between hearing and listening? Whilst these two words tend to be interchangeable there is a difference and it for the purpose of this article I am going to stick to the following explanations and show why it is important that we understand these differences.


To hear means to absorb sound through our ears. That sound can be conversation, music, industrial noise and so on. We are often not aware of all the things that we are hearing at any one time. Imagine standing in a a busy city street for example. There may be someone speaking to us or other people nearby speaking to each other. A street vendor may be calling out to attract customers, there will be the sound of cars, buses and trucks emitting engine and tyre noise as well as the occasional blast of the horn. Buskers may be playing and even the odd bird may be calling from a tree or rooftop.

Our ears and brain are taking all of that in but how much are we listening too?


Listening really is the art of taking note of what we are hearing. One dictionary definition puts it this way: to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear.
In other words it is a matter of sorting out all the noises that we are being bombarded with and selecting what we feel is important to us at that time.

Selective Hearing

How many of us if we are honest have been able to answer a question when asked by someone and then immediately forgotten that we have answered it because we were not really listening but only hearing? Many wives would complain that when their husbands are watching sport on TV that they have said yes to something only to deny it later! Those husbands heard but they did not listen!

Listening in Business

In business we need to listen to our customers. What are they telling us? Is our service good or does it need improving? Are we competitive? Do we deliver on time? Is the quality good enough? To provide good service we should ask our customers and listen to the answers. Many people are very polite and sometimes it is what they do not say or how they say it that may indicate that there is a problem. If we are listening carefully we will pick up on those moments. For instance you may ask “Were my staff polite?” and they may answer “well they were very busy” and rather than say that the service was not up to standard they avoid doing so but their words imply something was wrong. If we don’t listen carefully we may well miss those truths that are being shielded. Perhaps they like the staff member and feel that they don’t want to get them into trouble.

This is only an example but I am sure that you can see that if we listen carefully we will benefit much more than if we are just hearing a lot of noise. Listening is an art and it takes effort in the fast paced world in which we live but it is worth the effort.

What do you think. Please your comments below.

Image: Yaron Jeroen van Oostrom /

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6 thoughts on “Do you Hear or Do You Listen?

  1. Listening is massively important. Great blog post.

    A good tip I find when i am in a client meeting or talking to a potential client is to make notes of everything. That way if you were hearing and not listening you can remind yourself of what went on.

  2. I believe that one of the best courtesies we can give to another human being is our undivided attention while listening. Active listening promotes better absorption of information and just plain helps us be nicer.

    If you’re going to be engaged in conversation anyway, you might as well listen and try to learn something.

  3. Hi Chris.
    Thanks for your comment. You are right that courtesy is shown when we listen to another person. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we all did this?

  4. You are right to listen is important. You distinguish very clearly between hearing and listening.

    Listening includes far more than just listening with the ears. It includes to read the mimic and gestures, all the tiny little hints. This is only possible when you are able to be in the moment.


  5. I sometimes wonder if Politicians listen, or do they use Selective Hearing?
    No matter how many times we tell them about distressing situations that family carers face in the UK, day in and day out, it seems as if nothing changes.
    Very interesting blog, thank you.

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