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Listening vs. Hearing

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “lend a listening ear” before and perhaps not thought much of it. In fact, that saying says a lot about how we can support our loved ones and people we encounter on a daily basis. There is a big difference between listening to someone, and just hearing them. To hear someone is just that, physically hear the words they are saying. This may involve observing their body language but stops there. We hear things all the time, the radio when we drive, our friends chatting about their day, but how much of that do we retain? To truly listen to someone is much deeper than that. Listening to the people around us involves our undivided and complete attention. We start to understand the nuances of what’s being said. We can pick up context clues from the tone of voice of the person talking. Listening also involves watching non-verbal communication like body language which can help us to pick up on emotions which may otherwise be hard to express verbally.

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As a Counselor at CA Human Services and an individual entering the field of social work, I have formed my career around listening. I am reminded of a client I worked with who was having a difficult time feeling calm. Before we started chatting, I witnessed this individual pacing back and forth quickly, his hair was disheveled, and he looked tired. When we started talking, I didn’t have to offer much other than my attention and that listening ear. As we came towards the end of our conversation, I noticed this person’s body language relax, he was making more eye contact with me, and was able to sit down in the chair across from me comfortably. As the weeks went by, I had turned into a reliable source of understanding for this client and we formed a positive working relationship. All I had to do was listen.

We all have the power to be that source of support for the people around us. Rather than assume what someone is saying or read between the lines of what we’ve heard I encourage everyone to take the time to listen. It can be difficult in our busy lives to give our attention fully to another person, but that is how we form relationships with others. You might even find, if you lend a listening ear for someone, that someday that someone will lend you theirs

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