Communication – Can One Listen and Not Hear?

by Diane M. Hoffmann

Watch and listen next time you are in a group -- any group -- family, business, community, church... Someone will express a feeling, an opinion, a statement. The listener will often respond differently from what was expected. This plainly indicates that the listener was not listening or was completely disinterested in what the speaker was saying.

In other situations, although a statement warrants further clarification (feedback responsibility) on the part of the listener (receiver), the listener was oblivious to it and replied on his/her own thought of the subject matter.

Even worse, have you ever experienced talking to people and suddenly a disturbance in the room interrupted your talk and after everything resumed back, no one returned to listening to you? Instead, they forgot all about you and started a whole new discussion. That really speaks volume about the lack of interest in what you had to say.

These examples indicate the complete lack of communication. All the time the person is speaking, the listener is thinking about what he/she is going to say from his/her own perspective or personal interest. The receiver is listening but is not hearing what the speaker says.

To hear = to perceive, sense through stimulation.To listen = to make a conscious effort to hear.

In the above definition of the words “hear” and “listen”, the first one is true – to hear is to perceive, to sense through stimulation.

However the second word “listen” is not completely true. Yes, to listen is to make a conscious effort to hear, but, in this day and age when we have lost touch of communication because of the fast pace, stress and pressures of time and activities of our lives, we often stand as if we are listening, looking straight at the speaker. But, inside the mind, there is a complete shut off to what is being said due to a bombardment of our own thoughts.

How often has it happened to you? And how often have you seen others do it from the result of their reply to what you said. Listening means that we need to learn to slow down the activities going on in our brains. This happens a lot in seminars or meetings. So much so, actually, that in one event I attended not long ago on team building and communication, the presenter made it a point to tell everyone that if they mentally “leave the room”, to immediately let her (and the group) know.

She went on to explain that this wandering off of the mind is common place and it was better for everyone to let it be known and have the lost information be repeated rather than missing out on some important aspect or details of the discussion.

It was every interesting to see the positive response to this from the group, how much it was appreciated and, particularly, how much the idea was used. People just opened up to the fact that it was happening and many at different times would just raise their hand and simply say, “Sorry, I left the room there for a moment, what was that?”

Certainly, when we talk about Listening/Receiving, we mean it to include "hearing". Listening doesn't just mean being quiet and looking at the speaker. It means really following and understanding what is being said. If at any time the receiver misses a point, or does not understand, it is his/her responsibility to ask or confirm the detail. That is providing feedback.

In communication, it is for certain that at times one will be listening and not hearing. But again as it is in any communication improvement process, it all begins with “being aware” of these factors. If we don’t know they exist, we cannot do something about it. /dmh

Article Copyright(c)Diane M. Hoffmann. You may print this article making sure to include the following bio without any changes.

Diane M. Hoffmann is the founder of Hoffmann-Rondeau Communications and author of the 296-page printed book "Contextual Communication, Organization and Training". Diane also provides a 2-part e-book version of her printed book, "Improve Communication, Verbal and Nonverbal" and "Improve Communication, Organization and Training" as well as many free articles which can be seen at her blog at

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