Hear, Listen, Comprehend

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“Three old ladies met on the street on a very stormy day. The wind was so strong and loud that they had difficulty in hearing each other. “It”s windy,” said one. “No, it”s Thursday,” said the next. “So am I,” said the third. “Let”s go and have a drink!”

Of late my wife has been complaining that my hearing has gone from bad to worse and that I need to see a doctor. I hate the idea of wearing a hearing aid. So, I promptly sat before my computer and took some free online hearing tests. To my delight, the results showed that I do not have serious hearing problems.  So why is my wife complaining?


Hearing- Listening-Comprehending-  is a complicated chain! 

In our day to day communication, we hardly pay any attention to the intricate interfaces in this chain. Only when a reply by a person is little out of context, we tend to think that he or she is hard of hearing.  But the root cause could be any one of the following:

a)    Hard of hearing

b)    Hard of listening

c)    Hard of understanding

d)    A  mix of all the above

e)    Improper communication by the other party

Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Hearing simply and always happens. In humans, hearing is performed primarily by the auditory system: vibrations are detected by the ear and transduced into nerve impulses that are perceived by the brain.

“Active listening” is a popular subject covered in all the communication seminars.

Listening requires concentration on what is spoken. The brain needs to be engaged in the act of listening, otherwise the sound it receives makes no more sense than the traffic noise. Listening can’t work if someone speaks a language that the recipient doesn’t know.

But according to me what causes the maximum problem is the context. When I come back from work, my wife may ask me a question. There are two possibilities – I may not pay full attention and hear only a part of her question or sometimes I pay proper attention but do not understand what she really asked.

In both the cases, the end result is the same -  I am not in a position to give her a satisfactory reply. So I try to simply nod my head and say “yes” or “let us see”.  Having lived with me for years, she would clearly make out that I have not understood her question and would call my bluff.

The last problem is registration in one’s memory.  Let me give you a typical example:

I actively listen to my wife on the list of items to be bought from our apartment shop. “Should I write it down and give to you,” asks my wife. “Nonsense, I will get them for you” is my reply.

I take the elevator down and have a chat with my neighbour, I enter the shop and Lakshmi, the shop owner welcomes me with a friendly smile, she asks “enna vendum sir” [what do you want?].  As I give her the list of five items, I vaguely remember that there is a sixth item to be bought but however much I try, I cannot recall what it is. I can very well use my phone and ask my wife again for the shopping list but my pride comes in the way so I think of a strategy and go back with only  the five items. When my wife asks where is the curd, I say with a straight face (like William)  “it is not available”.  My wife sees through my strategy and telephones Lakshmi and asks her to send the item to our place.

So here I go with my resolution for this Tamil new year:

 - to improve my hearing (planning to see an ENT), improve listening skills and also make sure things register well in my memory.


(Illustration courtesy : magnitudemedia.net)

  1. April 24, 2012

    philip joshua

    Wish You a Happy New “EAR”

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