Hearing vs. listening: 5 tips on how to become a more mindful listener

One tip that is important when it comes to intent listening is to put all distractions aside, specifically technology. There is a big difference between listening and hearing while having conversations with friends. Photo by Misha Mosiichuk.

Share This:

We’ve all had those friends who pretend they’re listening to you vent your frustrations to them, but are too busy typing away on their phone or thinking about their own busy schedule to acknowledge and fully comprehend what you’re saying.

In fact, a study done by the University of Minnesota found that “immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk, they remember only about half of what they have heard — no matter how carefully they thought they were listening.”

Jared Dupree, associate professor of communication and department chair, said as we continue to be a society that is distanced due to our advancements in technology and COVID-19, it is imperative, now more than ever, to be a good listener for the sake of your peers.

Here’s five tips on how you can become a more mindful listener:

Get rid of the technology — it’s a distraction

Turn those LOLs into TTYLs and set your phone aside to give your peer your undivided attention while listening to them.

Darci Alston, a humanities and social sciences part-time instructor, said “setting the stage” is one of the most important things you can do to prepare to listen to someone else.

This includes putting your phone, tablet, laptop or any other form of distraction aside to show your peers they have your full, undivided attention.

“This will allow us to dedicate the time, clear distractions and really create the engagement the other person is needing,” Alston said. “If we are distracted, don’t have time, feel rushed, [are] on our phones, etcetera, then the other person may not feel heard, have their needs met, or worse, misunderstandings can be created.”

Raisa Alvarado, assistant professor of communication, said she advises students to turn off their social media notifications, especially when they’re trying to be good listeners for their friends. This can help them focus less on the notifications they’re getting on their phones and be more present in conversations between them and their friends.

“Make sure your phone is beyond reach,” Alvarado said. “So the person ‘listening’ is not constantly thinking about ‘did my phone buzz’ or ‘did my phone light up.'”

Reduce the noise in your head

College students have a million-and-one things to do on their checklist, but clearing your thoughts before preparing to listen to a friend vent can allow you to better understand them and give them the emotional support they need, Dupree said.

“You need to turn off the noise,” Dupree said. “That means not thinking about ‘what am I going to do next,’ or ‘I’ve got to go here later’ when you’re actually supposed to be listening to what someone else has to say. You’re not really present if you have all that head chatter.”

Alston said students should put their other emotional and mental notes aside while someone is venting or having a serious conversation with them. This can show someone that although you’re extremely busy, you’ve taken a few minutes out of your day to listen to them and show them you care.

“Listening has everything to do with giving,” Dupree said. “Giving up time, giving up thinking about other things that are going on in your life, giving your full attention. You have to give in order to receive the full benefits of listening and building trust with someone else.”

Body language is key

Nonverbal cues are just as important as verbal cues when it comes to showing someone else you’re really listening, Alvarado said.

“Often, to communicate nonverbally that we’re engaged, it’s important to maintain a healthy degree of eye contact without being overwhelming and looking into someone’s soul, for example,” Alvarado said.

Along with maintaining eye contact, Alvarado suggested students sit close and face their body toward the individual they are listening to, smile when the other person smiles, nod their head when they understand, and verbally respond when they get the chance.

“When it is appropriate, respond verbally, but not with the intention of interrupting, but with the intent of affirming what [someone else] is saying,” Alvarado said.

Alston said listening through body language shows active listening.

“Body language will allow the other person to feel heard or comfortable sharing when their message is received in a positive way,” Alston said.

Understand the difference between “hearing” and “listening”

There is a significant difference between hearing a person and truly listening, Dupree said.

“Oftentimes people hear, but they don’t listen,” Dupree said. “Hearing is usually someone preparing to respond because they feel they have to, whereas listening is really sinking into you and what you’re saying without thinking of what to respond. You’re really paying attention to what they’re saying.”

Most of the time, people will seem as if they’re listening but actually begin to zone out, Dupree said. This is why it is essential to understand the difference between hearing and listening, then reminding yourself why you should be mindful about having the intent to listen.

Dupree said: “It goes back to your intent. You’ll listen if you truly care. Keep in mind that the way you listen will affect your relationship and the trust you have with that person who is having a conversation with you.”

Reciprocate the energy

By reciprocating the same energy and listening just as much as someone else is talking, you’re allowing that person to feel valued, important and understood, Alvarado said.

“There’s nothing worse than a conversation-hogger,” Alvarado said. “Someone who is supposed to be listening takes over the conversation in a way that it becomes almost selfish and redundant.”

Alvarado stressed the importance of being an intentional and more mindful listener. She said to look for the emotions someone is using when they are speaking or venting to you; if they are mad, sad, excited or frustrated, then that same kind of energy should be matched in the way you listen and respond.

“When we are good listeners, everyone wins,” Alston said. “The other person has the ability to solve some problems, [and] feel validated and understood. The listener can also reap the same rewards.”