9*Has your spouse ever said to you, “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said”? Likewise, have you ever complained about your spouse not listening to you? We tend to use the words ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ interchangeably. We have a tendency to assume they mean the same thing. They don’t. One is a physiological function while the other is a mental and emotional one.

Building strong relationships requires solid communication. Likewise, solid communication requires both hearing and listening. People who do not know how to listen to one another make it virtually impossible to communicate on any meaningful level.

1.              Hearing Is Physiological

Hearing is a physiological response made possible by certain body parts. Sound waves moving through the air penetrate a person’s ear, causing a reaction in the eardrums that sends a signal to the brain. The brain recognizes that as sound. Anyone whose hearing is working properly hears a barrage of sounds all day without consciously recognizing them.

Because hearing is a physiological response, it is possible to hear without listening. It is possible to hear something without acknowledging the sound. We do it all the time. If we want to acknowledge, we need to listen.

2.              Listening Is Mental and Emotional

Transforming hearing into listening requires active effort. That is what makes listening a mental and emotional response. A person who listens chooses to pay attention to what is being heard for the purposes of acknowledging and understanding it.

If you are listening to the pizza delivery, you are constantly paying attention to sounds in hopes of hearing the driver arrive at your doorstep. Your mind is analyzing each sound for its relevance.

Likewise, listening to someone speak is an action of the mind and emotions. When you listen, you do not just hear words. You are acknowledging those words for the purposes of understanding them. You are connecting emotionally with that other person. Whether or not your emotions match is another matter.

3.              Why Listening Is Important

Acknowledging the difference between hearing and listening should make apparent why listening is so important to relationships. If communication is the bedrock of strong relationships, listening cannot be an option. Listening is a key ingredient in meaningful conversations. Without it, it’s impossible to talk about anything of any real value.

Unfortunately, we have become very adept at tuning one another out in the modern world. Just ask the therapists at Rye, NY’s Relationships & More. They could tell you stories of entire mobs of people walking down city streets with their eyes glued to their phone screens and their earbuds blasting music into their ears – none of them cognizant of all the others around them.

Busy city streets offer a blatantly obvious example of people who do not listen to one another. But we do the same thing at home. We tune each other out. When we do talk, our conversations need to remain superficial because there is always something else occupying a more important place in the mind. Relationships suffer as a result.

4.              Make the Effort to Listen

Are you feeling like your relationships are not on solid ground? If so, ask yourself whether you actually listen to other people. Maybe you don’t. And if that’s the case, it’s strong evidence that any relationship problems you do have are rooted in a lack of communication. Make a real effort to listen and see what happens.

The difference between hearing and listening is as plain as day when you use the right definitions. Hearing is physiological. Listening is mental and emotional. Get that right and you are ahead of most people.

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