Conversing versus communicating

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IN our daily life, communication is often the key to achieving our objectives. Be it among co-workers or family members, effective communication plays a vital role in creating a harmonious relationship.

Have we ever wondered if we are communicating effectively? Or are we just merely conversing, passing one information to another only on the surface? What’s the difference between conversing and communicating?

One critical element of communication is listening. Unfortunately, with the advent of technology and the increasing pace of the world, the listening skill is hard to come by these days.

Yes, we may hear things, but many people only listen to reply and not to understand.

Let’s take our family life as an example. How often do we truly listen to our children? Or are we merely listening to react to their “antics”?


In conversing with others, whether verbally or in writing, we often listen to reply.

Sarah E. White, a professional crafter, author and contributor to books on children’s activities and fibre art, said: “Listening to reply is the standard way that most people communicate. What that means is that instead of really paying attention to what the other person is saying, you’re already thinking about what you want to say in response.”

She added: “Of course, it’s great to have a well-thought-out reply, but if you’re thinking about what you want to say instead of hearing what the other person is saying, you aren’t really listening and communicating well.”

I couldn’t agree more. Listening to understand is the skill we all should strive for.

Stephen R. Covey, who wrote the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, listed this as Habit Number Five: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”

He said: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”


In conversation, we may be listening reactively while in communication, we must be listening proactively.

So, what’s this proactive listening and why is it so hard?

In proactive listening, we’ll listen for the content of the message. At the same time, we’ll also need to watch out for the feelings of the speaker.

Proactive listening requires us to listen without making judgment.

In addition, we’re expected to respond to the speaker’s feelings. We must note the speaker’s cues, both verbal and nonverbal, while asking open-ended questions.

Then, reflect to the speaker and summarise what we think we’re hearing.

To help you remember all the steps, I’ve summarised the active listening process into the acronym EARS. It stands for “Encouraging, Ask, Reflect and Summarise”.

Let’s make a pledge to use our “ears” more with our family.

Start by truly listening to our children’s feeling, not just words. Have a deep, meaningful communication with our spouse.

If we truly communicate, we may pick up new things that we may have missed before. Let’s do that before it’s too late.

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