The Nature of Listening

Listening is not the same as hearing.

Hearing is a physiological process which does not require effort, which means that it is automatic. When sound waves enter our ears and are transmitted to our brains, considering we have no ear injuries or hearing problems, we hear sounds inevitably. Listening, on the other hand, requires meaning construction. We assign meaning to the sounds we hear. Listening involves paying attention, interpreting the message, and responding. When we listen, we also send nonverbal messages such as nodding, showing appropriate facial expressions, or just maintaining eye contact to indicate that we understand the speaker’s message. You may hear someone speak but not listen to what he or she says. For instance, when you already heard a friend tell the same joke a number of times, you no longer give the same amount of attention you did when you first listened to it. Sometimes you hear your teacher speak but you do not have any idea what he or she is talking about. Your father may be scolding you but you are tuning out what he is saying. 

Listening is a skill that can be improved.

Often we think that listening is a natural process that is as easy as breathing. At school, we are taught how to read, write, and speak properly, but seldom are we taught how to listen. This is because everyone can listen even without proper training or instruction; however, not all people are naturally good listeners. One may develop listening skills through studying and practice.

Listening requires conscious effort.

A listener is not just a passive receiver of the message. Listening is a complicated process which is composed of three stages (Brooks, 1993). This includes hearing or the reception of sounds, recognizing patterns or the association of sounds to one’s experiences or schematic knowledge, and auding or the formulation of response after assigning meaning to the message. The assignment of meaning may be facilitated by the following skills: indexing or evaluating the level of importance of the information, making comparisons, sequencing, forming impressions, and appreciating. In order to avoid misunderstanding, a listener must be able to identify, and focus on, the important parts of the message,; construct meaning out of the message, and remember or retain some of the information transmitted.

Listening does not guarantee receiving the same message.

Listeners may interpret the same message in different ways. People perceive phenomena differently and make sense of messages depending on their previous experiences, interests, beliefs, attitudes, and roles in society. Someone who may not be feeling well will have difficulty in comprehending a message. Other factors that are not within the listener also affect the interpretation of the message. For instance, a student who sits at the farthest corner of the room may have a different understanding of the message compared to someone sitting in the front row.