Listening Versus Hearing When Traveling


photo credit: peter pearson

As travelers we make the time and effort to go to a country and to mingle with the indigenous people of that country and possibly learn about their geography, religion and customs.  The best way to learn is through face-to-face interaction with persons of the culture we would like to learn more about. To really understand the other culture and get to know what the people are feeling and what their concerns are, we need to be actively engaged in conversations with them. A conversation has two sides to it – talking and listening and the latter is what allows us to gain information.

Concrete Ears

Between 1916 and the 1930’s, before the invention of radar, the British Isles had an interesting system devised for listening for incoming enemy aircraft. They constructed huge, concrete, acoustic mirrors which focused and amplified sounds coming from a given direction. Some were bowl-shaped and over 30 feet in height, and others were shaped like an amphitheater wall, over 200 feet long.

Inside the structure, a trained listener would use a stethoscope to detect the distance and direction of incoming aircraft as far as 20 miles away. Although they were soon made obsolete by the invention of radar, they were used with success in their time.

A few of these remain in Britain today, and are now being preserved for their historical significance.

Listening Versus Hearing

The difference between hearing and listening should not be confused. The latter is a skill while the former is a physical ability.  Let’s face it; every complaining traveler has had a moment where they’ve asked themselves, ‘Did he/she hear me?’ Well, the real question is, ‘Did he/she listen?’ and that is definitely a matter of choice.

You see, hearing is an involuntary process that starts with noise, vibrations, the movement of fluid in the ears and sound sent to the brain. Simple!

Where it gets a little complicated is when the noise actually arrives at its final destination: the brain! This is where listening happens.

Listening is a voluntary act where we try to make sense out of the noise we hear. That could be your partner telling you that your attitude sucks or your traveling companion droning on about the latest sight they just photographed.  But the worst is when someone in a foreign crowd is vying for your attention. In any event, hearing and listening are very different because listening requires conscious action.

Here are 12 effective listening techniques so you won’t need concrete ears.

  1. Open-ended questions

Ask open-ended questions to get the other person to open up

  1. Eye Contact

Face the one you are listening to, lean slightly forward and make eye contact.

  1. Body Language

Let your body language show your interest and concern.

  1. Listen Carefully

Listen carefully so you can understand and evaluate.

  1. Read between the lines

Learn to read between the lines by listening to both verbal and nonverbal messages.

  1. Don’t prepare in advance

Come prepared mentally and physically to listen. Don’t think of answers in advance

  1. 1 thing at a time

You can’t talk and listen at the same time.

  1. Empathy

Be empathetic. See the situation from the other person’s viewpoint. Walk in their shoes.

  1. Don’t interrupt

Don’t interrupt and take notes if you’re worried about forgetting a particular point.

  1. No prior expectations

Avoid setting expectations as this prejudices your opinions.

  1. Listen to the unsaid

Listen to what is said and how it is said and listen for what is left unsaid.

  1. Listen to everyone

Don’t let one person dominate a multiple-person conversation.

Listening skills allow you to make sense of and understand what the other person in the foreign crowd is saying. In other words, listening skills allow you to understand what the other person is “talking about”.

1 comment

  • Great Blog Post! I really enjoyed reading.


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