The Difference Between Listening and Hearing

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Whilst hearing is considered an important part of listening, the two concepts of listening and hearing are not the same based on the following explanation.

When we hear, we hear with our ears (or our minds ear), a set of words in either an auditory format, such as verbal communication, or written format, such as an email or letter. The communication myth that “meanings are in words” implies that the words we convey will contain the entire meaning of the message; whereas in practice, the words within communication are merely the auditory sounds spoken, or characters written on a page or computer screen.

Interpretation of a message occurs when the process of hearing in exists as a part of the listening process. Listening, or otherwise referred to as decoding, is the process of selecting and attending to the physiological sound component of a communication, in addition to attributing meaning from non-verbal messages or cues that are either intentionally or non-intentionally displayed by the encoder. Simply put, hearing is physical and listening is mental.

Non-verbal cues are a combination of unspoken messages existing within the communication, with the most important non-verbal form of communication being body language. Other non-verbal communicator examples are literal or psychological noise, context, emphasis, pace or tone of voice or even emoticons (in the case of email).

Additional contributing factors that allow a decoder to listen, as opposed to simply hear a message, include both the encoders physical and psychological standpoint. Physical aspects can affect how messages are decoded, such as the encoders physical location, the channel utilised for the communication, potential background noise and the individual’s well being. Similarly, the psychological traits of the decoder will have impact on the ability to listen; examples are the encoder’s history, their perception of the relationship between encoder and decoder, their emotional well being...
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