Hearing is not always exclusive. There is always background noise and the sounds of various activities taking place when we are trying to have a conversation. Therefore, hearing is a passive activity. Truly listening is work, and we must actively participate in the process, or it will fail. In order to comprehend what the other person or persons are really saying, in a conversation, you must tune out the background noise, and make the conscious effort to really listen to what is being said.
We all bring our own stuff to conversations. The minute someone begins to speak, our minds jump ahead to what our response might be. Sometimes we put our own "spin" on what is being said by bringing our perceptions and values into our thoughts before the other person has finished speaking. This is called conditioned hearing. It is wrong to assume that you know what another person is trying to say. They may not feel the same way that you do about the subject matter. If you focus on what you are thinking, you are going to have miscommunication, or give incorrect and inaccurate responses to the other person. When you consider that the people, who you spend time talking to, are very important in your life; do you really want to misunderstand them? Since life is hectic and we are always busy and in a hurry, we look for clues about what someone is saying and rush the process. Their words get "lost in translation" because we can't slow down and just listen.
The Ten Minute Plan
Getting your thoughts to slow down isn't easy but it is possible with practice. Try picking out someone in your life that you want to really talk to, and set aside ten minutes on a specific day to give your full attention to this person. Don't let your mind wander while they are speaking. Make yourself focus on the content of their words and NOT on what your response will be - JUST HEAR WHAT IS BEING SAID. Someone special wants you to know something, and they deserve your attention. Relax, lean toward them, and be accepting of what they are saying. Make some non-verbal movements, touch their hand or arm, if you wish, and show that you are truly listening. Repeat this process, once a day, with a person you care about, for a few weeks.
This simple plan, with practice, will help you learn to make the effort to accurately hear conversations. It will get easier and become a habit. Your spouse, kids, friends, extended family, peers and co-workers will be very appreciative of your courtesy, attentiveness, and informative responses. The respect that you have shown them will be returned to you. Communication will be greatly improved for everyone, and you will have increased and enriched the quality of your relationships with those you like, love, and respect. We cannot be truly happy without being able to communicate with the significant people in our lives. Making an effort to improve ourselves, in order to be open and available for our loved ones, is a large part of finding true contentment.