Good listening skills transform relationships, help us learn, lessen blunders at work and avoid conflicts

In the context of the communication overload that we are currently experiencing, it turns out that most of us are poor listeners. Occasional nods and smiles while daydreaming don’t exactly count as listening. We listen for the sake of it and are so emotionally wrapped up in our own thoughts and problems that it gets in the way of genuine listening. We think holding our tongue is equivalent to listening, but it isn’t.

What is bad listening?

Staring at the TV, reading a newspaper, or cleaning a vase and faking attention with a distracted mind, definitely discounts the intensity of the speaker’s words. We listen with half-hearted attention, waiting for our turn to voice what we feel. No one likes to share what they feel with people who just pretend to listen and keep waiting for their turn to speak instead of listening intently. Yes, we all think what we have to say is the most important thing, but it can be shared later.

We have this compulsive urge to respond with life-altering words, resulting in our mind formulating advice before the speaker finishes what he has to say. Most of the time, all people want is a willing and open mind and an attentive ear to make their own thoughts clear and to come up with a solution. We all know the ‘sentence grabber’ who constantly interrupts and thrusts what he has to say at people, relating it to himself or doling out advice. Bad listeners shift the focus to themselves by starting to describe similar experiences in a conversation. Many of us consider a conversation as a contest, and want to win, thinking what we have to say is more important than what we have to hear. Non-listening makes people feel neglected and dissatisfied.

Listening without reactions coming into play takes effort. For instance, when someone shares something they have done badly, instead of reacting immediately, with a “how could you do this”, which might put a full stop to the flow intended, just listen patiently. Emotional reactivity is another hindrance. If we disagree with the speaker, it makes us so stimulated that we start planning counter arguments, failing to listen to what he has to say.

Benefits

Be it your boss giving you the work list for the week, or a friend sharing her success, focussed listening helps you absorb the details conveyed. Bad listening makes people assume things and can lead to misunderstandings. Effective listening is a fundamental element of communication and communication is a fundamental element of all relationships. Good listening skills transform relationships, help us learn, lessen blunders at work and avoid conflicts. Conscious listening without judgment helps us understand another point of view.

“When we fail to listen, it is the equivalent of an airline pilot flying from Singapore to Beijing using a map of South America. Not listening means ‘I don't have a clue about what you are thinking, desiring, intending, proposing, suggesting, denying, accepting’. Most disputes occur because people fail to listen,” says Ed Brodow, keynote speaker and negotiation guru on PBS, ABC News and Fox News. He recommends the 70/30 rule. Listen 70 per cent of the time and speak only 30 per cent; let the speaker do most of the talking. “If you are committed to being a good listener, your marriage will be more secure, your children will be better adjusted, and your business relationships will be more fruitful.”

Pointers

Approach a conversation with the attitude ‘what can I learn from this person, which can exponentially expand my wisdom.’ It’s best not to assume what the speaker has to say. If the matter is important, then check in advance if your friend/spouse is free or ask them to get free. Try not to travel in your own fantasy land when someone is talking and focus harder. Withhold your inputs until the speaker has finished and don’t think of your responses while listening. Be it criticism, praise or advice, listen without interrupting. Do not steer the conversation to yourself, as being listened to sincerely makes people feel desirable and appreciated.

Michael Rooni, author of Attractive Communication, and Founder of Communic8 Training, shares his insights. “Do not try to finish the sentences of the person communicating with you. Do not try to rush the communication of people, or they may feel unimportant. Maintain eye contact, without being restless or looking away. Multi-tasking has become a communicative epidemic and should be avoided while listening to people. Try to put yourself “in their shoes” and feel things from their emotional vantage point. Communicate words of interest to show that you are interested in listening. Make them feel heard, understood and cared for.”

Like any skill, the more we make an effort and commitment to ‘listening’ the better we will get with time. When we open our heart with a sincere desire to listen, great conversations happen. The saying, “We have two ears but only one mouth” clearly reveals listening is doubly important compared to talking.