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The six stages of listening

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About listening

Every day we hear many sounds.

But do we really listen to all of them? No.

There is a big difference between just hearing something and really listening. In this lens, I will introduce the six different stages of listening to you. You may never have thought about what you are actually doing when you truly listen to something or someone! (there are also other models out there that only have five steps, others have eight steps of listening - but I prefer the six step one). I hope you will find this lens educational!

Stage 1

Hearing something

Sound waves make their way to your ears: you hear something. This could be the barking of a dog, a car's alarm system or someone's words.

Stage 2

Paying attention

You will only pay attention to a certain amount of the sounds that you hear. The dog that is barking in the distance may not be of interest to you at all, so you screen it out. The sound of the car alarm may be a different story: if it is the sound of your car, you will pay attention to it! Paying attention can be problematic when there is noise that makes it harder to hear the sounds (or a bad phone connection).


Stage 3

Understanding the sounds

In stage 3, we try to make sense of what the sounds that we are now paying attention to. In the case of the car alarm, we may come to the understanding that someone is trying to steal our car! In the case of a conversation ,we will try to understand what the other person is telling us. Problems might occur if the other person speaks a different language or is using terminology that is not known to you. For some people words also could have a slightly different meaning (e.g. for one person, the "dentist" is just a job, for others it is a term filled with negative emotions).

Stage 4


In stage four, we build our own opinion about what we have heard, paid attention to and understood. We decide what to remember and whether we feel positive, neutral or negative about it. Often we judge too quickly, e.g. when we have strong beliefs about a topic or if we do not like the person we are listening to.

Stage 5


Straight after stage 4, we will have to react to what we have heard and paid attention to. In case of the car alarm, we could respond by running out to our car. In a conversation, we could either respond verbally (with words) or non-verbally (body language, facial expressions). We can check whether we understood the speaker by asking questions or we could give feedback on what we have heard. If you do not respond, the communication usually stops.

Stage 6

Remembering the communication

The last stage is the remembering stage. Actually, this stage also takes place within the communication because you need to remember what has been said to react and keep the conversation going. Depending on the kind of communication, you will also need to remember the information long-term (e.g. if the conversation was with your boss about a job you need to do, or with your tutor about an upcoming exam). Most of the time, we will not be able to remember 75% of the details of a conversation in the future unless we jot down some notes afterwards.

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As you see, there is more to listening than just hearing something!

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Your thoughts

Onethindime LM on February 13, 2013:

It's interesting that the brain usually does all this stuff on it's own and very quickly unless we override it.

peppervel on October 16, 2011:

very unique lens. It will help me to 'listen' more in future

jvernier33 on August 16, 2011:

Definitely interesting. I always knew I didn't have "selective hearing"...I just listen at a lower stage! Haha...

Kim Snow (author) from United Kingdom on August 08, 2011:

@kimmanleyort: Thank you for the comment - it's nice to see that people read what I write :)

kimmanleyort on August 08, 2011:

Very interesting. I agree that there is much more to listening than just hearing and you have explained why. For me, paying attention is key. The world is a symphony.

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