“Yes! I heard everything you said!”
Nope, you didn’t. Hearing is done with the ears, but listening is done with so much more.
As a simple example, listening allows us to understand sarcasm. The phrase – “how wonderful” – can be interpreted very differently because of the tone of voice and the smirk that may accompany the phrase. Because sarcasm is usually harmless and forms a common part of our day, many of us are well tuned to it, so missing the facial expression (if our back is turned) doesn’t mean we miss the sarcastic comment as we recognise the tone of voice.
Unfortunately, when it comes to more serious matters – which are tackled less frequently – we are not as in-tune and miss much of what is being shared. These serious matters tend to make most people uncomfortable so we tackle the issue while doing other things, cooking for example. Even if we are brave enough to request a talk without distraction, the paintings on the wall or the coffee cup in-hand, suddenly become a far easier focus. Averting our eyes results in poorer listening as those subtle facial expressions are vital because they are less easy to control than the tone of voice.
Communication between people is very complex. However, practising listening by looking at the person who is speaking and acknowledging their tone of voice, facial expressions and body language may result in greater understanding of the emotion and intention behind what is being said. With greater understanding comes an ease to how to respond – make a joke, say how sad that sounds, or simply nod your head. Apart from making us a better listener in those difficult-to-have important discussions, actively listening can make even light chit-chat flow with greater ease.