“It takes two to speak truth-one to speak and another to hear.” Henry David Thorea

Although many people have perhaps not really thought about it, Thorea’s statement is widely recognised and accepted in the academic community, not least amongst social scientists.

For the French composer and theorist Pierre Schaeffer hearing is just getting the sound passively, sometimes without even perceiving it. This happens frequently as we cannot close our ears as we can close our eyes and whilst we are awake we are more or less continually assailed by different sounds.

Listening is the action of directing your attention to the sound. It is a combination of hearing and perception.

Listening, unlike simple audition is always an active process which requires the use of the intellect, essentially our ability to recognise signs and interpret reality.

Hearing is a sensory concept. In a sense it is superficial, something that is not in itself absorbed as knowledge. To listen, though, is to pay attention, to feel, to understand. Listening generates transformation but only when you think about what you hear.

The terms “listening” and “hearing” are often used synonymously. Sometimes we signify that we have listened to someone speaking.

“Hearing” in the judicial, parliamentary and legal senses, is associated with inquiries, audits, investigations, or procedures in which one hears someone with the implicit goal of understanding by means of listening … although that’s not what always happens!

In some countries such as my home country of Portugal, for historical and political reasons “to listen” is still associated with the wiretaps carried out by the political police of the  former dictatorship. This is not the day-to-day meaning that we Portuguese give it, when we talk about “listening to the other person”, as opposed to (merely) hearing it Listening is intended to give dignity to the “other” to recognise her/him as a person … and to show respect.

As was very well put said by the leadership expert John Maxell, “In your daily life, remember that you won’t be able to learn, when you’re talking about. Listen to the other, remain humble and you’ll start to learn every day new things that can help you expand your talent.”

In similar vein he wrote: “It takes two to speak truth-one to speak and another to hear.”

This article is posted here with David’s very kind permission. A slightly different version was posted on his Linked In page in July 2016. The simultaneous French translation that we we’re also publishing today has very kindly been completed by Antonia Jenkins, ASM’s new team member who is and internationally experienced conflict coach and trainer and a workplace, community and civil mediator.