Interpersonal Skills: Making the effort to move from hearing to listening

John Whitehead
4 min readApr 16, 2017


We’ve all met that dynamic, charismatic person who just has a way of connecting with others, is influential and makes a lasting impact. In the next series of posts I will explore how we, too, can be an influencer by improving our communication skills and negotiation techniques. I’ll also provide tips on how to make an impact, and thoughts on networking and starting conversations.

Think of a social situation that you consider most stressful. This situation can be within an employment, community, family, or recreational setting. Example: introducing yourself to strangers at a networking event.

After envisioning the social situation you find most stressful, answer the following questions:

  1. What aspect of this situation do you find most stressful? Why?
  2. What do you think are the interpersonal skills needed in order to successfully navigate this situation? List at least three.
  3. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least effective and 5 being the most, rate your effectiveness in practicing the skills you listed.
  4. Considering at your responses, which skills do you practice most effectively? What helps you in practicing these skills well?
  5. Which skills do you practice least effectively? What keeps you from practicing these skills well?

The saying “90% of communication is non-verbal” notwithstanding, words are still powerful tools of communication. Indeed, word choice can easily influence the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviour of those listening to us. Similarly, proper attention to the language of others can give us insight into what they are really saying, helping us to respond appropriately and effectively.

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” Alfred Brende

Listening and Hearing: They Aren’t the Same Thing

Most people can hear, but few can really listen.

Hearing is the physical process of perceiving sounds within our environment. The best way to illustrate hearing is through the biological processes involved in sensory perception: our ears pick up sound waves around us, send signals to our brain, and our brain in turn interprets those signals and tells us what the sound is and where it is coming from.

Listening, on the other hand, goes beyond simply picking up and identifying stimuli around us. Listening involves the extra steps of really understanding what we heard, and giving it deliberate attention and thoughtful consideration. Listening involves active participation from a person rather than simply hearing.

Here is an example to illustrate this difference:

An administrative assistant entered his boss’s office and presented her with a copy of the schedule for the next day. The AA told the boss that she has a packed day tomorrow, and that she only has an hour of break time for the whole afternoon.

The boss, busy studying a report, merely nodded to the AA, and motioned for him to place the schedule on her desk. The boss continued to study the report as if there had been no interruption. In this case, the boss simply heard what the AA said; the boss paid just enough attention to make an appropriate but non-committal reaction.

If the boss had been listening, would her reaction have been different? Most likely it would have been.

She would have set aside the report she was reading and paid 100% attention to what the AA was saying. She also could have processed the implication of the message. For instance, upon learning that she has a packed day ahead, she could have arranged for her lunch to be delivered, or noted to herself that she needs to get a good night’s sleep.

Making the effort to move from hearing to listening can enhance a person’s interpersonal relationships in many ways. Listening promotes a more accurate and deeper understanding of a person’s communication, helping the listener to provide the most appropriate response. But more importantly, when you’re listening to a person, you are communicating to them that you value not just what they are saying, but their presence as well.


John Whitehead, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

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John Whitehead

A Certified Executive Coach (PCC) engaging Executives, Business owners, HR professionals, Managers and individuals in Leadership & Personal Development.