Some people may think that listening and hearing are synonyms. In reality they refer to two different actions that we as humans take.
Hearing is an involuntary and natural process that involves the perception of sound. When we hear something, we engage only our hearing sense in a passive, physical way. Most of the time, this doesn’t require any concentration.
Listening is a more active process that requires effort to actively understand the sounds you hear. It is an active mental process that engages multiple senses and requires at least some concentration.
The quality of listening can differ from person to person and situation to situation. When a person passively listens, they are often disconnected and unreceptive, while when an individual actively listens, they attempt to internalize and understand what they’re hearing. It requires motivation and purpose, as well as an intention to connect and participate.
Active listening is an important skill to hone, especially in conflict situations as it helps to make the other person feel heard and valued, which can be an antidote to destructive conflict.
So, if listening is so important, why don’t we all do it all the time? The reality is, it is hard. In this next section we will explore one of the reasons why – noise.
Noise Makes Listening Difficult
When we think of noise, most of us will think of the type of physical noise like loud music, car horns or plane engines that may interfere with our ability to hear. However, there are multiple other types of noise including psychological, physiological, and semantic.
Psychological noise consists of distractions to a speaker’s message caused by a listener’s internal thoughts. This might include a preoccupation with persona problems which make it difficult to give the speaker’s message your full attention. Or, the presence of another person to whom you feel attracted or perhaps someone you dislike intensely can distract you from what the speaker is conveying.
Physiological noise includes distractions to a speaker’s message caused by a listener’s own body. At times, our body can distract us from being attuned to the information presented from bodily sensations such as hunger, or a too hot/cold temperature.
Semantic noise refers to confusion over the meaning of a speaker’s word choice. When semantic noise impacts our listening, you attempt to understand a particular word or phrase and the speaker continues to present the message. While you struggle with word interpretation, you are distracted from listening to the rest of the message. Some examples of things that can lead to semantic noise include special jargon, euphemism, unique word usage, mispronunciation and phrases from other languages.
Listening is such a vital tool in our conflict management toolkit, but understandably it is difficult at the best of times. However, by being aware of these sources of noise you can help reduce some of the miscommunication that leads to increased conflict.