Listening vs Hearing: What’s the difference?

Woman in blue shirt and woman in white shirt leaning together over tableMerriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.” Listening, on the other hand, means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention. Have you ever heard someone say: “You might be hearing me, but you’re not listening to me”?

If you’re familiar with that expression, there’s a good chance you know a thing or two about the difference between hearing and listening.

While hearing and listening may seem like they serve the same purpose, the difference between the two is fairly significant. At Child’s Voice, we teach and practice both. All students have devices — either a cochlear implant or hearing aids or a combination of both. Beginning in our Early Intervention program we coach parents how to help their baby detect sound through their device. We tell parents that this can be done by singing and reading to their babies. This in turn helps the child develop good listening skills. We work on both hearing and listening.

By the time the children join our Primary I group in the school (3-5 year-olds) we have a set curriculum that helps the students progress to more complex listening: from being able to imitate sentences with a picture for context through conversing about a familiar topic. Listening is a very important skill to be successful in the mainstream and in life.

As teachers, parents, and leaders, we have all been introduced to the concept of  ‘active listening.’ We are to ‘stay in the moment,’ being mindful of what the other person is saying — really ‘listening.’ There are numerous articles to explain how to actively listen. Some advice given is to lean in, nod your head, keep eye contact, and do not interrupt the speaker.

This year our Board of Directors and our Leadership Team have participated in monthly trainings on a variety of topics. This month our program was on being an Authentic Leader.

I now have learned to be an Authentic Leader, one masters the 4 levels of listening:

Listening from Within the Cocoon, or from our habitual mind

Listening on the Edge of the Cocoon: This is our judgmental, analytical mind, asking if what we are hearing lines up with our views

Empathetic Listening: Allowing the other person to be who they are

Listening to Someone In Their Own Wisdom: This is where our listening actually creates a steady, gentle pull that invites deeper insight for the one who is speaking

I’m striving for the wisdom level.

So, it is quite clear that listening is one step ahead of hearing. Hearing is the ability to hear, (i.e. natural or with a device). However, listening is an acquired skill, which one must work on. While the hearing is involuntary and performed effortlessly, listening is done intentionally. Let’s all practice listening to each other.


Dr. Michele