In today's truly and virtually connected world, communication is more important than ever. Unfortunately, we seem to devote limited time to genuinely listening to one another. And this is not just in the professional but personal arena as well. And before I move into the why and how of listening, let me ask you - Do you remember Gabbar's famous dialogue where he screams aloud and says "Gaav walon" (Oh villagers!). And suddenly villagers who were busy doing something or the other looked at him attentively. Well! He wanted to be heard and till he screamed aloud using his "position of power" (gun actually), no one paid attention to him.
Why should we listen?
Well, first and foremost it helps build relationships, solve problems (complex or simple), clarify doubts, resolve conflicts, and much more. If this is not enough let me assure you, effective listening helps make fewer mistakes thereby making you more productive.
How should we listen?
- Ground rule - keep your gadgets away - how many times have you lost interest in telling your story because a colleague was constantly checking WhatsApp or your friend was constantly answering every call (even the credit card ones) or your father was looking at the laptop while nodding his head ... all the while each one of them saying - Yes I am listening.
- Look into my eyes - No, this is not a romantic or a hypnosis scene but when you listen, you must listen attentively and make eye contact. You must be attentive to what the individual is saying, and your body language must be positive (eg avoid crossing hands over the chest)
- Make it a two-way conversation- Listening also means engaging in the conversation. Don't just listen with the intent of answering, listen with the intent of understanding and responding. Listening we all know means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses the body. In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages.
- Avoid being judgemental - I remember I was sharing an incident with my friend and just three sentences down, she said "Clifford that was stupid." I lost interest and wanted to tell her that the end was the fun part but you interrupted and compromised the entire experience. I turned around and said, "If you didn't want to listen you should have told me at the beginning." She apologised and heard the entire experience but many people don't even realise their mistake. We normally put blinders on and jump to conclusions with just one perspective rather than opening ourselves to a multitude of perspectives.
- Don't jump in with solutions - Let people find their way coz sometimes when they are sharing something with you, they just want you to LISTEN and not provide SOLUTIONS. Don't try to be the Amitabh Bachchan of every movie, coz you must share space with other individuals as well.
- The expression never goes to waste - Your face mirrors your feeling. So, remember the next time your colleague comes to you and says he/she got a shout from the Manager, empathise, listen and respond. The expression (smile) on your face will prove that you were/weren't listening.
I have always said that one of the sincere forms of respect is listening to what others have to say. Listen to respond not react! And this holds true, in both personal and professional space.
This article was first published in May 2021.