Hearing vs Listening

We spend a majority of our day talking to students and their families about various financial aid topics.  You may feel you heard every detail that was communicated but did you really listen to everything that was asked?  You might believe that you listen all the time but there is a significant difference between listening and hearing.  The simplest difference between the two is this: hearing is involuntary and listening is voluntary.

We all have the ability to hear.  Hearing is an involuntary process that your ears perform.  Anytime an object produces a sound wave, whether it is from a moving car, music from your next door neighbor, or running water, your ears automatically pick up on the sound.

The key to listening is focusing on the subject at hand.  Listening is when we take those sounds and try to make sense of them.  Listening is an active skill that is learned over time. Lots of us have so many different types of distractions that it’s hard for us to effectively listen 100% of the time.  Thus, it is essential to understand the process we go through to completely listen. There are many different diagrams for the listening processing but I think this one explains the process the best:

  • Hearing – The physiological part of listening
  • Attending – The mental part of selecting what is important for the message
  • Understanding – Making sense of the received message
  • Responding – Giving feedback to the speaker, lets the speaker know you are listening
  • Remembering – Ability to recall information received

These steps happen so quickly we do even realize they are happening but you might recognized the area where you are struggling in.

I have been guilty before of having to ask someone to repeat their question or response because I was distracted by an email notification that popped up.  This makes the person who you are talking to feel disrespected in that you are the expert but you are not giving your full attention to help this person.

Even the most effective listeners still have to work on improving their listening skill as new types of distractions and objectives are presented every day, but there are ways to improve this skill:

  • Identify the objectives of your conversations
  • Know your listening habits
  • Generate motivation and energy
  • Eliminate distractions (internal & external)
  • Ask questions in different styles (closed, open, probing)
  • Evaluate your progress
  • Understanding your filters – these are unique to each individual

Unfortunately though, with all these ways to improve our listening skills, the distractions and social media of our digital age is making listening a lost art.  We now communicate with email, messaging, and posts so much that we do not get to use our listening skills, let alone sharpening them.  We need to realize listening is still crucial to not only the way we conduct business on our campuses but how we communicate with others on a personal level as well.  It is those conversations where we are actively listening that makes the student feel like someone actually cares about their issues and it is those conversations that makes our job, however stressful it can get, just that more meaningful.


More Than Meets the Ear powerpoint

Was I Paying Attention? powerpoint

–Mac Schwartz, Assistant Director, Emporia State University (KS)

Mac is a participant in the current class of the RMASFAA Leadership Pipeline.  Mentees in this year’s Pipeline are all contributing blog posts as part of their leadership development.


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