Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Of all the senses, this makes the auditory one special.
Humans have been processing important information received by sound for aeons. Without effort, we manage to distinguish the difference between background noise and sound that might imperil, inform or affect us. Listening intently is something that we need to focus to do. At CliffCentral.com, and more broadly in podcasting, we’re all about our listeners, not hearers. If you’re into what we do, you’re a listener.
Hearing is an ability, listening is a skill. I’ve had to learn (and I suppose many of us have) to be a better listener. The old adage of “you have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak” comes to mind – but what it means is that you don’t get smarter by talking and sharing what you know; you get smarter by paying attention to what other people know. The more carefully you listen, the more you pick up – and not just from the words and the meaning, but also from the tone, volume, pitch and control. It’s like a song. If you listen really, really carefully, you can hear the fingers on the guitar strings, and the faint movements around the microphones. Audiophiles (people who are obsessed with music and sound) will spend fortunes so that they can hear minute details on a recording.
Receipt vs Interpretation. By hearing something your ears just receive the audio waves. Listening means you do that and then interpret what is going on. That’s why when you’re lying in bed at night and you hear a sound, your fear or imagination kicks in and you picture someone breaking into the house or a monster coming up the stairs. Listening switches on imagination in a way pictures, smells, tastes and tactile feelings can’t compare with.
Physiological vs Psychological. Hearing is a neural process, listening is something you decide you’re going to do beforehand. Have you ever sat in a lecture or group discussion and felt yourself zoning out completely? You know, where you can’t remember a single thing that was said in half an hour? That means you haven’t been listening. In an age of text messages and Instagram images, just think of how a phone call or voice message cuts through the clutter. It’s still the only way to be sure someone has received your message.
We’re so used to movies, video clips and YouTube that we forget they aren’t just visual, they’re also auditory. Take away the sound and you might only get half the story. Next time you download a podcast or switch on the radio, remember that you’re not there to hear it. In order to get something valuable out of the experience you actually need to listen.