Difference Between Listening and Hearing

Main Difference – Listening vs Hearing

Most of us assume that listening and hearing are the same. Not realizing the difference between listening and hearing is one of the main reasons for the lack of communication between people. Listening and hearing are different; hearing refers to the act of receiving sounds and becoming aware of sounds through your ears, but listening refers to making a conscious effort to perceive the sound. Thus, the main difference between listening and hearing lies in the conscious effort one makes to perceive sound.

This article covers,

1. What is Listening? – Meaning, Characteristics, and Examples

2. What is Hearing? – Meaning, Characteristics, and Examples

3. Difference Between Listening and Hearing
Difference Between Listening and Hearing - Listening vs. Hearing Comparison Summary

What is Listening

When you are listening to something, you are making a conscious effort to understand using reception, analysis, and interpretation. Listening is an active process. If you are actively listening to something, you don’t think of anything else or get busy with some other work. For example, you might have noticed some people listening to others talk while staring at their phones or typing something on their computers. This is never a good way to listen. Multitasking never goes well with listening. If you want to listen well, you have to pay attention. So, it’s always best to sit down and listen to what the speaker is saying.

Always listen to others with the intention of understanding them, not just to give a reply. Listen patiently without interrupting the speaker and if you have any questions, you can always ask them once the speaker has finished speaking.

Difference Between Listening and Hearing

What is Hearing

Hearing simply refers to the act of perceiving sound. When we hear sounds, we do not make an effort to receive or understand the sound; we are also not paying attention or waiting for the sound. Thus, hearing simply refers to becoming aware of a sound.  We always hear sounds, noises and voices around us, but we don’t actively pay attention to them. For example, we hear the telephone ringing, the birds chirping, the sound of wind, the horns of vehicle. But we don’t actively pay our attention to these sounds.

Main Difference - Listening vs Hearing

Don’t you hear the phone ringing?

Therefore, the main difference between listening and hearing is our conscious attention. Let’s look at a simple example to clarify this point further. Imagine a woman walking across a corridor. She hears two people arguing, but she doesn’t make a conscious effort to listen to what is being said. In this scenario, the woman only ‘heard’ voices. Now imagine another woman walking along the same corridor. She stops and listens to the argument between the couple, through the door. Here, she ‘listened’ to the argument by making a conscious effort.

Difference Between Listening and Hearing


Hearing refers to the act of perceiving a sound through the ear.

Listening refers to the act making a conscious and active effort to perceive the sound.


Hearing does not require a conscious effort.

Listening requires a conscious effort.

Active vs Passive

Hearing is passive because it does not require a deliberate effort.

Listening is active since it is a deliberate attempt to pay attention and understand what other people are saying. 


Hearing is involuntary. Since we don’t deliberately try to listen and make no conscious effort, hearing is an involuntary act.  It is difficult to stop hearing things. 

Listening is voluntary since listening requires a conscious effort. 

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.