Expanding Influence: Hearing versus Listening

Published on January 17, 2017

listening-vs-hearing-shutterstock_158522150As a sales and leadership expert, I want to take a look at the difference between listening and hearing, and the Impact true listening can have on your personal and professional relationships.

Have you ever approached the reservation desk at a restaurant, hotel, or airline and given your name, only to have them tell you they can’t find your reservation? It happens to me all the time because my last name sounds like the word “car,” but it isn’t spelled that way. It’s a simple enough name, but I always have to spell it for people. In these situations, where someone is going to be looking for my reservation, I always say, “I have a reservation, my last name is Karr, K-A-R-R.” Even when I use this approach, more often than not the person will respond by saying they don’t have my reservation. Then I ask, “Are you looking under C?” And of course they are. It’s frustrating, and I always wonder, why didn’t you listen to me?

It’s a remarkable phenomenon that someone can “hear” you but not really “listen” to you at all. This example about my last name may sound small and unimportant, but the point is that this kind of hearing goes on all the time, and it undermines our personal and professional relationships.

I define “hearing” as taking the words someone is saying to you and trying to fit those words into the way you see the world. “Listening” is different. It involves clearing your mind of your assumptions and truly hearing what someone is saying from the viewpoint they are saying it. When people hear my name that sounds like “Car,” they assume they know how it’s spelled and don’t even listen to me spell it.

The trouble is, we all do that in different ways to the people who are talking to us. The thoughts in our minds take precedence over the words we hear. Just imagine how our assumptions might undermine our ability to genuinely listen to family members, employees, and customers and the impact that has on our relationships.

If you really want to be influential, it’s time to throw out your assumptions and stop just “hearing” people. Listening is what relationships are about, and only that level of listening will allow you to meet and exceed expectations—and continually expand your influence. If you need help with strategies for expanding influence with listening, call me.

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