The Difference Between Hearing And Listening And How Each Impact Mental Health

“The most basic and most powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and connect than the most well-intentioned words”- Rachel Naomi Remen.

As social beings, hearing and listening are fundamental tools to keep us together and keep the socialization process lively and impactful. Hearing, being one of the five human senses, contributes significantly to the mental health status of an individual. It’s one of the important ingredients for listening. A recent study shows that the hearing impairment of one spouse in a romantic relationship can be a cause of depression to the other spouse. Other listening ingredients include body language, tone, facial expressions etc those that are non-verbal by nature. 

Many a times hearing impairment can become a barrier to effective communication, an essential tool for passing feelings, attitudes and information about an individual. Another study stated that hearing problems and poor listening skills have contributed significantly to increased suicidal thoughts, which arise from mental issues. Listening skill enables one to pay attention to information and offer an appropriate response. This guarantees a relationship strong affection promoting the mental health care of individuals.

Listening vs Hearing.

Many people find it difficult to differentiate between these two words, listening and hearing. Even though they perform almost similar functions, their difference is as day and night as highlighted below:

1. Hearing refers to one’s ability to perceive sounds by receiving vibrations through the ear, while listening is a conscious process involving attention to understand the heard sounds.

2. Hearing is simply an innate ability, i.e. inherited from parents, while listening is a learnt skill as one grows and interact more with the environment.

3. Only a single sense, i.e. sense of hearing, is involved in hearing, while listening comprises more than one sense, i.e. sight, hear and touch.

4. Hearing is a physiological process involving receiving messages through the ears, while listening is a psychological process involving the interpretation of the received message by the ear.

5. Concentration is not necessarily needed when hearing while listening requires focussed attention to accurately source meaning from the message.

6. Hearing is a passive process by a body part, ear while listening is an active mental process.

7. Hearing occurs at a subconscious level body part while listening occurs at a conscious level mind.

8. Hearing is primary and continuous, while listening is secondary and temporary.

What is Listening?

It is the active process of attentively receiving and accurately responding to spoken and sometimes unspoken messages for a successful communication process. It cuts across the three domains in learning, i.e. affective, cognitive and behavioural.

Active listening is the ability to listen to a complete message and respond appropriately to improve mutual understanding.

Research shows that while speaking causes high blood pressure and later mental problems, attentive listening brings it down.

What is Hearing?

It is the physiological process of perceiving sound vibrations through the ear. This can either be noise or constructive messages. Hearing is a passive, physical act that requires one sense and has to do with the perception of sound. It does not rely on concentration. Hearing is like collecting data; we hear sounds and words all day long, even if we are not paying attention to them.

Role of Hearing and Listening on Mental Health

Hearing plays a vital role in promoting the mental health care of an individual. Being a primary step towards listening enables the parties involved to connect and develop strong relationship bonds. Conversely, hearing impairment may lead to communication breakdown. This leads to a feeling of loneliness and social anxiety, which are significant catalysts to depression and mental health problems. Listening increases curiosity about the people’s experiences of empathy and increased compassion.

Significant roles of hearing and listening in mental health areas highlighted;

1. Shows a sense of belonging.

Attention to an individual battling mental health-related problems promotes a sense of belonging and acceptance. Later, the self-esteem is enhanced, causing calmness and happiness, which serve as major therapy to mental health problems.

2. Active listening boosts relationship ties.

Through hearing and listening, we understand how one ought to be treated. Through appropriate treatment and service, relationship ties are strengthened supporting one’s mental health.

3. Serves as appropriate instruments for solving conflicts.

Conflicts are likely to occur in any progressive relationship. It is, therefore, necessary for them to be addressed earlier before it causes more damage to a relationship. Hearing, listening and talking to your partner plays a significant role in identifying the root cause of the existing conflict and how to overcome it moving forward.

4. Establishment of social connections.

This contributes to a reduction in loneliness, a remedy to social anxiety. Offers long term therapy to anxiety, depression and mental health problems.

A role of a therapist is to be an active listener. Offer a listening ear, in a safe and non-judgemental environment to help their clients dive deeper into their issues. They help their clients develop a listening ear for themselves. Do consider therapy for yourself or your loved ones for issues that seem to overwhelm you like stressanxiety etc.

Tips of Becoming a Better Listener

1. Stay away from destructions

They may be either physiological or psychological. Psychological destructions such as psychological stress can be avoided by focussing your mind and all your senses on what is being said. Physical destructions such as smartphones can be kept away from the communication environment to maintain attention.

2. Maximise the use of non-verbal gestures

Non-verbal cues such as nodding when you disagree, considering a person’s body language speaking and maintaining an eye enable a successful communication cycle. It is also an indicator for keen listening and appropriate attention keeping.

3. Asking relevant questions.

Whenever a misunderstanding or a disagreement arises between you and the speaker, it is advisable to ask relevant questions for clarification.

4. Be curious.

A curious mindset promotes keen listening and understanding. It causes one to fully submit all the senses to the message and non-verbal cues that enhance listening.

5. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness helps one to be more focused during a conversation. It enhances one’s presence and notices possible attention destructors. As a result, one can redirect focus to the person speaking, improving connection and understanding.

6. Avoid judgements and assumptions

Immature judgements and assumptions block one from paying attention to hearing new information. This may lead to switching off, and at long last, there will be no understanding. Avoiding judgements and assumptions also increase one’s curiosity.

7. Have a summary of what you are hearing.

Having a short writing of what you’ve heard enables you to have a keen analysis of what has been said. As a result, you will be able to iron out all your misunderstandings and come to a common understanding of the original message by the speaker.

8. Practice compassionate listening.

This can be achieved by giving yourself enough time to process and digest what you are hearing in order to provide appropriate feedback.

9. Purpose to improve your hearing and listening skills. Set a clear goal on how you are going to better your interaction skills with others.

10. Give advice appropriately only when required. Avoid forcing advice to someone when you are not called upon to do so. Someone may only be interested in you listening and not giving advisory feedback. Giving unnecessary may lead to irritations.


In conclusion, listening and hearing are significant promoters of an individual’s mental well-being. We only have two years and only one ear so that we may hear more and speak less. Since the art of conversing lies in listening, we ought to focus on hearing and listening to achieve healthy relationships free from mental health-related problems.


Rumsfeld, D(2011).Known and unknown: A memoir. New York Penguin Group.

Moore, D.R.(2011, July) The diagnosis and management of auditory processing disorder. Language, Speech and hearing service in schools,42,303-308

Hearing vs listening by Vera Sanipal, Sara Lindberg, September 27, 2018.

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