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Stop hearing and start listening

Awareness of international cultures, languages and experiences is a prominent aspect of an IB education. We asked Diploma Programme graduates to discuss the impact of language, words and actions on their lives and studies.  This is the second part of a short series of stories we’re calling Mindful mattersLearn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.


“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R Covey

By Kristen Leer

Humans are repetitive beings. Because of this we tend to share experiences, feelings, and connections that can be similar between each other. However, not everything about us is already known and to understand these hidden parts of ourselves we must learn to listen. Though we have ears, sometimes it is observed that there is a lack of training to use them effectively. This is not to criticize the person next to us but to encourage. In a world that is full of outlets to now share our stories and struggles to a reactionary audience, it is apparent the mouth is practiced more than the ears in our modern times.

Listening is a very important skill in school, in social interactions, with ourselves, and the environment around us. By practicing to listen more than speak we are given the chance to understand the world around us a bit better. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

Some confusion on this characteristic is the difference between listening and hearing. Hearing is when you sit in a classroom and you hear what the teacher is saying, “Everyone open your books.” This simple sentence can just be for you to open your book but if you were listening to the teacher you might listen to the tone of the teacher’s voice. Is it exciting, is it dry, is it sad, etc. By listening, you start to pick up details to the story that you might have missed. Another example is that you can see this through daily news and media. Shouting out slogans and titles about how they heard something, but they didn’t listen. This can lead to false information, not capturing the story right, and misuse of their jobs that could potentially hurt individuals.

Listening can help with learning. By listening you can have a better understanding of the subject that is presented or one that you struggle with. Sometimes this is hard, especially with a subject that may not be favored, or the topics seem out of reach. Speaking outside of school, listening can help us understand context within news and articles and our friends’ stories. When listening to these things, you can already see how many responses, depending on the subject, they get. But if one is just replying to add their input to what they are hearing, they hear one part of the story and in their own head start to think about their connection with it and then lose pieces of the others initial conversation. By listening you can do more than reply; you can do something about it. If you listen to your friend talking about going to the zoo, instead of replying about your times there, suggest to go to the zoo together. It builds for memories and connection between each other. This is simple example, but you can see how to apply it.

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” – Diogenes Laërtius

The best thing to do in any situation is to listen. It’s hard. There are a lot of factors that can inhibit our ability to effectively listen. There is no secret formula to learning this skill, no plan exactly, but to just practice. Listen in class, to friends, and family not to look for a response but to listen. I should clarify, it’s okay to respond, but make it about questions you have from what you listened to and observed. Listening can go a long way.


Diploma Programme graduate Kristen Leer (also known as K.A. Leer) is from the United States and is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native. She has a passion to help and be engaged with her community.

Leer believes there is a story in everyone that needs to be heard and her writing is dedicated to revealing tribulations of humanity that are often forgotten. She is currently studying psychology and plans to pursue a PhD.

Have a great story to tell? Write to alumni.relations@ibo.org and learn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.

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