Much of the time we confuse hearing and listening. They are different. Hearing is something that many of us can do with varying capabilities. Some need hearing aids and some can hear sounds that are well in excess of the "normal range." Almost none of us are willing to concede that our hearing is something that we should always protect. Aging robs even those who can hear well. How well you can hear makes a difference. If you can't hear the subtleties of pronunciation then you can't include them in your conversation. If those subtleties are necessary for the proper understanding of what you are saying, then you have a problem.
Listening is much more complicated. It includes the attributes of hearing and much more. As mentioned in the book "Communication: Principles for a Lifetime," listening involves such things as:
1. Selecting certain stimuli out of all the stimuli around us. Not only what is apparently being "said" but how it is being "said."
2. Focusing on a particular stimulus or message. The ability to block out stimuli while paying careful attention to specific stimuli.
3. Assigning meaning to messages. Your meaning, of course, but more importantly what "they" mean.
4. Recalling information(stimuli)that has been communicated. There are barriers here that are often ignored.
5. Responding or confirming your understanding of a message. Now you're in a position to "say" something.
The barriers need some thought. There are many and here is a brief list.
1. Rest: the ability to concentrate on everything that is being "said" verbally and non-verbally over a period of time takes energy. After long periods of listening you really should be tired. Don't confuse physical and mental exercise. They both require effort.
2. Health: clearly, if you are sick, concentration is not a reasonable expectation. All you really want to do is get well, then maybe you can concentrate.
3. Physical fitness: in order to have a reserve of energy you must be physically fit and able to think and concentrate over a period of time.
4. Freedom from stress: if you're having personal problems anywhere in your life it makes listening a very difficult task.
5. Drug free: legal or not, anything that affects your abilities think, focus, recall and respond to what is being "said" will get in the way.
Listening is not simple or easy. The more we know about it the better the chances are that we will be able to listen. The question is, "To whom are we listening?" The list is really long, but some that may hit close to home are: children, spouse, parents, grand-parents, friends, fellow employees, supervisors, officials of all kinds and the list goes on.
Listening is central in many ways to being able to reach your personal goals. In addition, those who can listen well are able to help those around them making improvements to the lives of those around them. Listening is really important.