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What is the Difference Between Hearing and Listening?

2 women sitting on a sofa talking to each other

The terms are often used interchangeably, but they involve different physiological and mental processes. One is an involuntary act while the other requires more conscious effort and awareness. Find out how hearing and listening work and learn tips to improve your communication skills.

What is Hearing?

It’s the involuntary physiological process of perceiving sound. You hear sounds all day, though you may be unaware of them. You even hear even when you’re asleep because your ears and brain never stop working to analyze audio.

Your ears funnel sounds through your ear canal and into your inner ear whether you’re paying attention or not. For example, your brain still registers the traffic noise outside your house even if you’re focused on your TV.

What is Listening?

Listening is the intentional act of understanding sounds and speech. When you listen to someone, you’re trying to interpret what they’re saying to develop an emotional response. Listening utilizes other senses, like sight, to give context to what you hear.

There are two types of listening:

Active listening: This listening is two-way communication that requires awareness and empathy to interact with others. You internalize what you hear to create an emotional connection.

Passive listening: This one-way communication involves less personal interaction. You’re not actively contributing to an exchange and likely already have your emotional response established.

How Hearing Loss Affects Mental Health

Hearing loss occurs when the hair cells in your inner ear are damaged. Exposure to loud noise, aging, certain health conditions and head or neck trauma are common causes of hearing loss.

Hearing is essential for communication and socializing. It’s not uncommon to experience social withdrawal if you have untreated hearing loss. You may experience relationship strain due to hearing loss because you struggle to keep up with conversations or avoid socializing completely. That could increase your risk of isolation and depression.

Your brain also has to work harder to interpret sound stimuli. That can lead to listening fatigue and leave you feeling tired after being in a noisy environment.

Tips to Improve Listening Skills

There are skills and techniques to improve your listening habits even if you have hearing loss.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Face the person you’re speaking with, so your ears catch as much sound as possible.
  • Use non-verbal cues like facial expressions and gestures to aid understanding.
  • Don’t interrupt or start forming a response until the other person is done speaking.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage more interactive exchanges.
  • Stay focused on the speaker in front of you and disregard distractions.
  • Don’t shy away from asking someone to clarify or repeat what they said.

How Audiologists Can Help

An audiologist is responsible for hearing health and hearing loss treatment and will educate you on effective communication and listening. Discuss your hearing obstacles with your audiologist so they can provide emotional support and solutions.

Your audiologist may recommend aural rehabilitation to help you adjust to living with hearing loss and improve communication methods. Aural rehab includes classes designed to help you understand how hearing works and adjust to hearing aids.

 Audiology Services in Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota

The expert team at Hearing Associates is dedicated to supporting you along your journey toward better hearing. Our services include hearing testing, hearing aid fittings and adjustments, tinnitus sound therapy, earwax removal and balance testing.

Call 888-760-2032 or schedule your appointment online.