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The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Listening is not the same as hearing.

Think about a commercial for a product you have no interest in: It's easy to tune that information out, isn't it? You may "hear" it as noise in the background, but you're probably not listening.

Hearing is one thing and listening and mentally absorbing the thoughts is another. That's why we say listening is an art—not a science.While it's easy to "hear" what the customer says, great customer service begins with great listening skills.

Here are easy six steps to help you become a better listener. And if you think you're already a pretty good listener, pass this along to someone who could also benefit from improved listening skills.

In school, you're taught to read, write, do math and dozens of other topics. I don't know about you, but in all my schooling, I don't ever recall having a course on listening. And yet, as we all know, listening is an important—some would even say crucial—skill. The first step is all about you and your personal commitment to be a better listener.

You need to decide to be a better listener. So, make that decision now. You're going to be a better listener and you're going to work at it. Like ATTITUDE, it's a choice.

To really LISTEN, be obviously friendly. By being obviously friendly and welcoming to the customer, it immediately sets the stage to let the customer know that you're interested and actively listening. One effective way to show you're listening is eye contact. The other is taking notes: On the phone, that's very difficult. But that's where the next tip will help you.

Your mind processes information much faster than the normal rate of speech and because of that ability, your mind half-listens and does other things, too. Your brain tends to solve other problems, to think about what you're going to say next, other calls you need to make, lunch plans and a host of other activities.

The mind needs to be disciplined to pay full attention and to listen closely. Even when you try to listen closely, little things can distract you, like a regional accent, or someone who speaks too rapidly, or when a subject is being discussed you don't find interesting. It's easy to be distracted by things happening around you. But don't let that happen. Concentrate. Especially on the phone! "What did you say?" isn't very comforting.

We'd go a long way toward curing the problem of poor listening habits by not interrupting. By carefully listening and letting others finish their conversation, you hear them out completely. AVOID JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS. That's an important step in the direction of keeping an open mind and solving the real problem.

This is a good time to talk about the difference between a "fact" and "assumption." A statement of fact is normally made after an observation. An assumption can be made any time—before, during or after an observation (or with no observation at all). We want to operate as closely as we can with facts rather than assumptions. And a good listener learns to stay objective and not be judgmental. Try not to let personal impressions modify what you hear. Keep an open mind. Don't take up listening time by trying to think of an answer to what the person is talking about.

Often, when someone doesn't give you feedback on the phone, you think you've been disconnected. Silence is golden—sometimes. Remember, on the phone there are no visual signals. Too much silence on the phone, or even in person, gives the impression you're not listening.

Even when you're thinking, when you're listening, you need to send some sort of feedback through a variety of short replies of acknowledgment. Give a spoken signal that you're receiving the message. Phrases like, "Bear with me while I look that up" or "Let's see what the notes say ..." are examples. And notice too, I said a variety of replies are comforting. Not one word like, "Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay," and, "I'm listening."

No one can remember everything all the time. I know this is basic, yet so important (and often overlooked). There needs to be paper and a pen or pencil by every phone. Write down keywords as people talk—their name, what they need, any follow-up items. Please don't take a chance on forgetting when it's so easy to write things down. You don't need to write a thesis. Make up your own abbreviation system as a memory jogger. And if you get lots of extra information, eliminate the unnecessary bits that can be safely discarded.

Whether you're taking a telephone message or helping a customer, repeat and paraphrase the message back to be sure you've got it correct. That lets people know you've really listened. And when you're face-to-face, it's okay to write as they talk, as well. Letting them know you're going to be taking notes while they talk is inviting.

Bonus Tip: If you're taking notes on a keyboard, let the person know you're typing/taking notes. It can be very irritating to hear "click, click, click." They won't know you're taking notes unless you tell them. They could feel you might be sending an email to someone else.

Mistakes happen. We're only human. However, many mistakes are avoidable. Remember, "listening better" is an art, not a science.

If we could get 250,000 people to make one less mistake, a mistake that costs a company just $40, that would be a savings of $10 million dollars. And it's such a simple thing to do. I'm listening ... are you?

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Nancy Friedman is founder and president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training in St Louis, Missouri. Telephone Doctor helps companies communicate better with their customers and coworkers. Nancy is a popular keynote speaker at franchise conferences and corporate meetings around the country. The author of nine, Nancy has appeared on Oprah; Fox News; CNN; Today Show; CBS This Morning; Good Morning America, Great Britain, Australia; and many other radio and TV shows and media outlets. She can be reached at [email protected] or visit or call 314.291.1012.

This article was republished with permission and originally appeared at the Telephone Doctor.

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