Hearing vs. Listening

Portrait of Marc Antony delivering a eulogy.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” If Brutus and his fellow conspirators in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar listened to this message instead of merely hearing it, they may have acted much differently.

Ever spend time sitting in an audience, “listening” to a speaker, only to realize moments later that the speaker’s message has been lost due to a distraction? Most likely yes, because everyday life seems to offer many ways to distract, especially with the rise of digital technological innovations. As a result, attention spans have become fragile and easy to manipulate.

This highlights the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing operates as a passive process. Changes in air pressure in the form of sound waves enter the ear, pass through the ear canal, and vibrate the structures within the ear, creating nerve impulses that get sent to the brain and processed as sound. People do not need to do anything active for this process to take place; as long as the ears function and remain unhindered by barriers such as headphones or earplugs, the sound will register. That explains the practice of hearing. Listening, on the other hand, requires individuals to take hearing a step further and process or interpret the sounds they hear. Listening requires an active cognitive component that works with the hearing process.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book