A Tale of Listening Vs Hearing

Expert AdviceWe all know listening skills are important for recruiters, right? Everyone tells us that this is the case and everyone who hears it agrees it is true. Yet how come there are still so many who fail to listen properly.

Let me qualify things a bit further. There is a difference between hearing and listening. This is a true example of a poor hearing issue, as opposed to listening issue. I was running a consultant bootcamp where I trained, coached and managed a team of rookie consultants for 5 weeks at a time. All of them living on-site (yes, living in specially converted apartments) and learning to recruit under my watchful eye. One trainee, who was clearly both nervous and excited about being on the phone to clients made the following call:

Trainee: “Good morning! Could you tell me who your managing director is please? Thank you.”

Receptionist: “Who’s calling?”

Trainee: “Thanks! Put me through please, thank you.”

The trainee then seemed to get a bit flustered and hung up. She then added the newly identified MD’s name to the database as Hugh Scorling. Yes – that’s right, she added a new contact to the database “Hugh Scorling” when the receptionist had asked “Who’s calling?”


This is a hearing issue. Too much blood pumping past the ear drum to hear what was said.

Listening is different. It is entirely possible to hear every word though not listen to what has been said. In my experience most recruiters are less adept at listening. Listening requires some thinking. Listening requires processing what has been said to ensure a clear understanding of what is meant. Listening is knowing what the other person means when they say something. A classic example of poor listening that gets played out every day:

Consultant: “My fee is 30% of the first year’s annual salary”

Client: “Is that negotiable?”

Consultant: “If you work with me exclusively I will give you 10% off”

Client: “Deal”

Consultant: “Excellent”

We could end up here with a client thinking they are recruiting at a fee of 20% with a consultant believing they have agreed 27%. How? It is likely they will not realise this breakdown in communication until the invoice appears. One is going to have to say to the other “I know that is what I said but that’s not what I meant”.

This is a listening issue. Hearing every word though not having a thorough understanding of what has been actually meant. No ensure you have listened effectively takes being alert. Processing what has been said, seeking potential ambiguity and then ensuring you recap or summarise using different language to ensure mutual understanding.

Here are some more opportunities for communication breakdown due to poor listening:

listening skills are vital for any recruiter“I will try and go for an interview next Friday” – What does try really mean?? A good listener would pick up on that and ask “What could stop you from attending?” as try predicts failure.

“That sounds like a very interesting job” – Hmmm, what’s missing for this sentence to make sense?? This is a comparative deletion. A good listener would ask “An interesting job compared to what?” Their current position? a past position? A job they recently had an interview for?? Only by listening can we pick up on this type of statement.

“We never pay more than 15%” A classic line in the sand from a client. Are you listening? What have they really said? Perhaps some more clarity is needed rather than a negotiation (someone who heard what was said would negotiate) a listener would ask “What has stopped you from paying more than 15% in the past?”

“When I recruit, it is important I can see that the candidates have good practical experience of doing the job” A truly adept listener will have picked up on the word ‘see’. What does that mean? Does this person like to recruit visually? A very skilled listener would ask “What would a good candidate look like?” knowing they would not get the physical description but a visual appraisal of what good is.

Now I know the difference between hearing and listening. Do you? Reading this, have you felt the difference? Do you think you could benefit from some additional listening skills? The best listeners recognise what has been said and also recognise what hasn’t. It’s a listening thing…

If you haven’t had any really effective listening training then perhaps you should get some. It will make you more money than talking training ever will.

Related Articles:

Influence through listening skills

How to get people to listen to you when you sell

and don’t forget:

Recruitment Dad Reveals His Identity

Recruitment Jobs and Careers


Don’t miss out – subscribe to Recruitment Dad’s blog today!

One Response

Write a comment
  1. Great post Dad. This is also where a a limited understanding of the English language, it’s nuances and intonations can really let you down. A great many young people, and young recruiters can be fairly slap dash in their use of language, and expect others to “get” what they are saying by somehow working it out. As a recruiter, the onus is on us, not only to be precise in how we speak, but also experts in hearing what others are saying.

    I wrote, and discarded, a blog earlier on candidates “Asking for the job”. A key part of the process is using listening skills to be able to empathise with the interviewer, and then being in a stronger position to close the deal. (I discarded the blog, as it was too obvious, and wasn’t saying anything new).

    Curiously, optimists and pessimists usually pick up on different things in conversations with clients and candidates. A skilled recruiter hears both sides, and is able to manage the conversation accordingly.

    Stephen O'Donnell 23 August 2010 at 5:36 pm Permalink

Write a Comment

Commenter Gravatar