Listening is when you allow other people’s words to go into your ears. Hearing is when you allow their words to go into your heart.
You can listen without hearing, but you can’t hear without listening.
They both have their place. Sometimes you don’t want other people’s words in your heart—and neither do they. You don’t want words of pain, anger, frustration, irritation in your heart. Sometimes people need to get those words off their chest. So you lend an ear, but you don’t invest your heart.
Sometimes an important person in your life, let’s say your boss who you respect, shares with you changes he would like to see you make. You listen. And you hear. You feel the depth and importance of his message. The more you hear, the more you also discover the words he didn’t say: “If you want to keep working here then you need to hear me.”
Hearing takes us far deeper than listening. Listening, after all, we can accomplish with as little exertion as facing the person who has something to say.
Listening is a courtesy; hearing is a commitment.
Listening is a surface level activity. Hearing plumbs greater depths. That explains why people say things like, “I really took his words to heart.”
Listening will build your reputation. “I like Jim, he’s a good listener.” Hearing, however, will build your relationships. “I love Jim. He really understands me.”
Part of your personal power lies in how you exercise your choice of who to listen to and who to hear. I know people who can’t stand to listen to Rush Limbaugh. Others can’t stand to listen to the President. I also know people who hear one of those men as if they were the personal soundtrack of their soul.
Listening takes more time than energy. Hearing takes more energy than time. When you hear someone, their words, what they said and what they didn’t say, continues to sink in and you continue to mull them over long after you stop listening.
When you listen, another person’s words move through you or over you or around you. When you hear, another person’s words move into you. You absorb them the way you absorb a meal. It becomes part of you—maybe a small part, maybe a large part, but a part nonetheless.
The ultimate choice remains yours. You decide who to listen to and who to hear. Becoming a better listener will involve more of your time. Becoming better at hearing others will involve more of your heart. Choose wisely.