The difference between listening and hearing remains a topic of fascination and confusion. Are they the same, or not?  Yes. There is a clear distinction, which I address in my recent blog, “Are You Hard of Listening?”

Assuming that our hearing — one of the five physical senses — is intact, listening is often the challenging part — really listening to someone else.

I discovered a presentation that was created by the Illinois Community College Board, which includes the following list, and I want to share it with you. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Ten Commandments of Listening*

1. Stop talking! You cannot listen when you are talking. You will only be thinking about what you are going to say next instead of paying attention to what the other person is trying to say. Consciously focus your attention on the speaker.

2. Put the speaker at ease: Relax, smile, look at the speaker and help that person feel free to talk. Look and act interested. Remove distractions: turn off the TV; close the door; stop what you are doing, and pay attention.

3. Pay attention to the nonverbal language of physical gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and body posture. An authority on nonverbal language says that 55 percent of the message meaning is nonverbal, 38 percent is indicated by tone of voice, and only 7 percent is conveyed by the words used in a spoken message. Few people know how to listen to the eyes; what a tapping foot means; a furrowed brow; clenched fist; the biting of nails. These often reveal the key feelings behind the words.

4. Listen for what is not said. Ask questions to clarify the meaning of words and the feelings involved, or ask the speaker to enlarge on the statement. People often find it difficult to speak up about matters or experiences that are very important or highly emotional for them. Listen for how the speaker presents the message. What people hesitate to say is often the most critical point.

5. Know exactly what the other person is saying. Reflect back what the other person has said in a “shared meaning” experience so you completely understand the meaning and content of the message before you reply to it. A good listener does not assume they understand the other person. You, as the listener, should not express your views until you have summarized the speaker’s message to his satisfaction.

6. Be aware of “tune out” words. These are words which appear in the media that strike an emotional chord in the listener and interferes with attentive listening (e.g. abortion, nuclear war, communism, homosexuality). Avoid arguing mentally. Listen to understand, not to oppose.

7. Concentrate on “hidden” emotional meanings. What are the real feelings behind the words? What is the tone of voice saying? What does the emphasis on certain words mean? Notice how the meaning of the following question is changed when you change the emphasis from one word to the next.

What do you want?

– What do you want?

– What do you want?

– What do you want?

8. Be patient. Don’t interrupt the speaker. This is disrespectful and suggests you want to talk instead of listen. Allow plenty of time for the speaker to convey ideas and meaning. Be courteous and give the speaker adequate time to present the full message.

9. Hold your temper! Try to keep your own emotions from interfering with your listening efficiency. When emotions are high, there is a tendency to tune out the speaker, become defensive, or want to give advice. You don’t have to agree to be a good listener. Don’t argue! Even if you win, you lose.

10. Empathize with the speaker. Try to “walk in the other’s moccasins” so you can feel what that person is feeling and understand the point of view the speaker is trying to convey.

*Created by the Illinois Community College Board