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July 2002 - Are you listening, or just hearing?

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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July 2002

Are you listening, or just hearing?

Listening and hearing are not the same thing. Hearing is the reception of sound, listening is the attachment of meaning to the sound. Mere hearing is passive; effective listening is active. Read the following story and ask yourself, "Which kind of job applicant would I have been? Would I have been a listener, or just a hearer?"

Years ago, before the general public had immediate access to instantaneous message transmission, the telegraph system was a useful and popular way to transmit messages quickly over long distances. Telegraph offices were filled with the sound of distinctive "dot and dash" messages being sent and received. Some of the busiest offices had several machines and often more than one message was being received at the same time.

An employer was conducting interviews to fill a vacancy for an operator. Applicants were seated in the waiting room where people came to pick up and send telegrams. The secretary told applicants the employer was running late, but that interviews would soon begin. All the while the sound of dots and dashes could be heard over a loudspeaker. The applicants heard them, but most paid little attention. They continued talking to one another or just reading.

Suddenly, one applicant jumped up and rushed into the manager's office. Soon he returned smiling and said, "I got the job!"

"How did you get ahead of us?" the others asked.

"You might have been considered if you hadn't been so busy talking that you didn't hear the manager's coded message," he replied. "It said, 'the person I need must always be on alert. The first one who interprets this message correctly and comes into my office gets the job.'"

Would you have been the one that listened, or would you have been like most people a mere hearer? Would you have been hired? There are always jobs for people who can listen. Employers put a premium on good listening. You won't be listening for the meaning of dots and dashes, but you will be listening to understand the meaning of verbal and nonverbal symbols the speaker uses. You want to listen, not just hear.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama
jkline@klinespeak.com


July 2002 - Are you listening, or just hearing?
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