Hi, Dr. Bob here.

A common expression I’ve heard often is, “I hear you.”

The idea that strikes me every semester, when I teach Fundamentals of Communication, is the huge gap that exists between hearing, and listening. Have you ever thought about that?

If our ears are working properly, we can’t escape hearing many things. I hear the I-Tunes radio playing music right now, people walking by in the hall outside my office, somebody next door in the yearbook office whose desk hit the wall slightly. I have the added “advantage” of having tinnitus, so I hear a constant high-pitched frequency, similar to the sound we get sometimes from the older florescent light tubes.

Now I hear all of those things. But I had to separate each one of them and specifically listen, to be able to identify what the sounds were.

When I was young, my mother would say, “Bobby, are you listening to what I’m saying?” She wasn’t asking me if I heard her; she was asking me if I understood what she said, and was paying attention to her.

Successful listening begins with actively focusing our attention on the subject at hand. The pastor’s sermon, the teacher’s lecture, the map that will get us to our destination—all deserve active attention on our part. The magnifying glass can enlarge an image so that we can see it, when it’s in focus. It can also take the sun’s rays and focus them on a leaf, to cause it to burn—when it’s in focus. So our attention to what we hear causes us to listen more effectively.

I learned many years ago, that if I wanted to have a successful marriage, when it came to listening to the television, or my dear wife who had come in to ask me a question, that the TV had to go off, or at least on mute, and my attention needed to focus on what my wife was saying. It makes for a good marriage, better friendships, a better family life, and even better grades in school.

An old English nursery rhyme says,

“A wise old owl sat on an oak; the more he saw the less he spoke;

The less he spoke the more he heard; why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”

Active focusing of our attention is the most effective way to begin to improve the first half of our communication skills, that is, listening.

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