hearing |ˈhi(ə)riNG| (noun): the faculty of perceiving sounds
hear |hi(ə)r| (verb): perceive with the ear the sound made by someone or something
We hear lots of things every day. Phones ringing, cars honking, sirens wailing, songs and static on the radio, dogs barking, doors slamming, rain pattering against the windows, the clinking and clanking of plates, glasses, and silverware. We hear people laughing and chattering, the different tones and inflections of a person’s voice who is happy versus one who is angry, impatient and annoyed sighs, kids yelling in play, adults yelling in anger. That’s obvious, right? As you were reading this, were you imagining each of those sounds in your mind? They’re so easy to think about. But let’s take a closer look.
perceive |pərˈsēv| (verb): become aware or conscious of something by use of one or more of the senses; come to realize or understand
The idea of perception seems pretty self-explanatory. You see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something. Your brain interprets the signals from the nerve cells into experiences, thoughts, emotions, & memories based off of past interpretations it has made. And you perceive whatever it is that you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling.
Great, that’s all fine and dandy. But have your heard of the term habituation? It’s a lovely psychological term that indicates the diminishing physiological or emotional response(s) to a repeated stimulus. In layman’s terms, it’s when you get used to something (such as a constant noise) and no longer perceive it. The noise (i.e. the stimulus) does not disappear but your brain realizes the lack of importance in the stimulus and decides to redirect its focus elsewhere, to more important stimuli. So when you are in a restaurant that has music playing in the background, eventually you stop hearing the music. You have become habituated to the sound of the music. This brings me to my next point.
listen |ˈlisən| (verb): give one’s attention to a sound; take notice of and act on what someone says; make an effort to hear something; be alert and ready to hear something
The difference between listening and hearing? Hearing is the perception of sound; listening is the act of paying attention to that perception. A small but significant difference. And while the concept of listening is most commonly attributed to the act of hearing, it extends to all the senses (for instance, listening to/being aware of someone’s body language).
How many people actually listen? In grade school I was taught that listening is a crucial skill to attain in order to be a good conversationalist. To show someone that you are listening to them you have to nod your head occasionally, meet the other person’s eye, and maybe say “Mhm” or “yeah” every once in a while to acknowledge what they are saying. Not too difficult, right? Wrong. It seems that in this day in age people have taken the accepted ‘signals of listening’ and turned them into the definition of listening. –> Listening without actually listening.
“I would like a 6oz steak, medium rare. With a house salad and mashed potatoes.”
“Okay, what dressing would you like on your salad?”
“And on the mashed potatoes, brown or cream gravy?”
Sorry sir/ma’am we do not carry ‘yeah’ gravy. Which freakin gravy do you want?!
Sadly enough, I go through this routine with *almost* every single table that sits in my section. If it’s not the type of gravy they would like, it’s whether or not they would like their steak smothered or bacon bits on their salad. Usually the person or people they are with will repeat it back to them and they’ll change their answer (“You seriously want mushrooms on your steak??” – “Oh, no! No mushrooms.”)
The harsh truth: People do not truly listen.
As a server, I’ve accepted this and learned how to deal with it. It’s tested my patience more times than I can count. While I don’t think what these guests are doing is habituating to my voice, I do think something similar occurs: tuning out. Habituation = unconscious; tuning out = conscious. People consciously choose not to listen. And that, in my opinion, is rude and disrespectful to me as a human being. It is one thing to be distracted by something else and not hear what someone is saying to you, it is another thing entirely to ignore someone completely. And I think pretending you are listening just makes it worse.
Think about your own relationships. When you’re talking to a friend, parent, sibling, or a child (your own or someone else’s), what percentage of the time do you actually listen? We’d like to think 100% of the time, or 95% at the least. Is that really true, though? From my own experience (reflecting on mine and observing other’s listening habits), it seems that people get distracted by quite a few things:
- Surroundings (distracting environment)
- Other people (or animals)
- Cell phones
- Objects (purses, make-up, coffee cups, etc.)
….and I probably failed to mention lots of other things that people choose to turn their attention towards instead of the person who is talking to them. But the number one distractor is your own mind. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are so wrapped up in ourselves we don’t even notice it (that seems kind of backwards but whatever). It’s all in where we [consciously or unconsciously] place our focus, and inside our own heads is much louder than anything outside of it. For instance, have you ever been having coffee with a friend when they say something that sparks another thought, such as something you meant to do or something that happened recently, and suddenly your companion’s voice has become a background noise? You turn your focus onto the thoughts inside your head. It’s easy to make connections between what someone is saying and your own life, your own thoughts & opinions, and stop really listening.
I’m human. I get distracted by other people, things around me, my cell phone, etc. when I should be listening to whoever it is I’m talking to. It’s a bad habit to get into. At least I can say I acknowledge those moments and do my best to correct them.