Hearing vs. Listening

Don’t just hear your callers….listen to them.
-Dave Sawchuk

Too many radio personalities mistakenly think “Listening and Hearing” are the “Coke and Pepsi” (what’s the difference?) of what to do after they answer the phone and say, “Hi, (insert call letters here).” Listening and Hearing are not the same – not even close.  There are significant differences between the two acts, and choosing one over the other will determine if the caller will feel valued and respected; and if the announcer will give themselves a chance to harvest the best audio possible for their show.  Are you getting the most out of your callers by listening to them, or are you simply hearing?

Scientifically speaking, hearing is what happens (physically) when sound waves meet our eardrums.  Hearing is largely done, unintentionally and unemotionally.  No disrespect to science; but listening is just science.  To your ears, there is no difference between the soft humming of a refrigerator and a secret from the lips of your partner.  Hearing is simply the recognition of sound.  Listening is a much more complex process that requires conscious effort.

Listening is an “active, complex process that consists of being mindful; hearing, selecting, and organizing information; interpreting communication; responding; and remembering” (Wood & Schweitzer, 2010, p.221) (you don’t do all that when you hear the fridge hum).  In order to maximize every phone conversation you have, listen.  Here are some tips:

1. Focus.  When you have somebody on the phone, they must be your number one priority.  Good listeners give their undivided attention to the person they are listening to.  Being mindful of the person you’re communicating with make them feel valued and comfortable.  The best phone calls are the ones where the listener drops their inhibitions and engages fully, this only happens after they feel safe.

2. Don’t Monopolize.  Personalities can tend to be self-centered (myself included) and direct conversations to their own point or arena of concern.  Give your caller credit; they have experiences and knowledge to share.

3. Respond.  The listener has called for a reason; give them the floor to ask their question or add their comment to your topic.  While you’re focusing on their words and motivations, let them know your paying attention with a few audio cues.  Phrases like “I see”, “go on” and, “okay” remind them that you’re listening, and genuinely want to hear more.

4. Clarify Then Expand.  After you’ve given the caller a chance to be heard in a welcoming and safe forum, keep them talking. This is often where the best audio comes from.  Now that they’re safe, and feel satisfied, paraphrase their point back to them, to be sure you understand.  After that, ask them almost anything you want, knowing that you’ve gained their confidence.  At this point, they want to talk to you and will feel comfortable doing it.

When the phone rings chose to focus, share, respond and expand; chose to listen, (and not just hear) the member of your radio station’s community.


Wood, J. & Schweitzer, A.  (2010). Everyday Encounters (4th     Canadian ed.).  Toronto, ON:   Nelson Education Ltd., published by Wadsworth.


3 responses to “Hearing vs. Listening

  1. Christy Ravndahl

    Pick up “UnMarketing: stop marketing. start engaging” by Scott Stratten. Seriously do it. Amazing book. Even if you hate Twitter.
    Thank me later.

  2. not so much clear in this

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