Art of Listening

Mind & Spirit: NST Life & Times: 01/02/2011

WHAT goes on in your mind when someone is talking to you? Are you attentive or are you too busy judging him or figuring out what to say next?

The Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu said, “The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear or to the mind. Hence, it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.”

Listening communicates importance and respect. When you really listen to someone, you are saying to him, “I am listening to you and only you right now. No distractions. No wandering mind. No peeking at the gorgeous woman at the next table. You are getting all my attention because you are important to me.”

Many of us are guilty of possessing poor listening skills. One study requested several thousand workers to identify the most serious fault observed in executives and discovered that 68 per cent of the respondents cited that it is their boss’ failure to listen to them.

I think that one of the reasons for poor listening is our negative attitude towards it. We tend to see listening as a weak and submissive behaviour while talking is an act of power. However, the true power lies in listening. When you really listen to someone, you connect to the person from the level of the heart and he is more likely to listen to what you have to say when it is your turn to speak. A strong connection between two people is formed.

By becoming a better listener at the workplace, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. The ability to listen can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening co-operation, and fostering understanding.

You can become a better listener by practising “active listening”. You make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying, but more importantly, try to understand the complete message being spoken. To do this, you must be very present and pay attention to the other person. Here are some tips to help you listen actively.

1. Pay Attention

– Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message.

– Maintain eye contact with the speaker.

– Put aside distracting thoughts.

– Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!

– Avoid being disturbed by environmental factors.

– Observe the speaker’s body language to pick up non-verbal cues on what the speaker is.

– Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.

2. Show That You Are Listening

– Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.

– Smile and nod occasionally. l Ensure that your posture is open and inviting.

– Encourage the speaker to continue with verbal comments like “yes” and “uh huh”.

3. Provide Feedback

– Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments and beliefs can distort what we hear. It is important to paraphrase what the speaker has said to clarify that the message was correctly received.

– Paraphrasing is the art of saying in your own words what you thought you heard back to the speaker. For example, a sales agent says to his manager, “You have been unfair to rate me so low on my performance appraisal.” His manager can paraphrase what he said by saying, “I see that you are upset about your rating and you think it is unfair for me to rate you in that way.”

– Ask questions to define certain points or obtain additional information. Open-ended questions are the best as they require the speaker to convey more information.

4. Defer Judgment

Keep an open mind. There is a tendency to evaluate too quickly while listening as we listen at a faster rate than we talk. We tend to misinterpret information and distort its intended meaning so that it is consistent with our beliefs if we disagree with a speaker’s message.

– Allow the speaker to finish.

– Interrupting the speaker limits full understanding of the message and causes misunderstandings.

5. Respond Appropriately

– Be candid, open, and authentic in your response.

– Assert your opinions respectfully.

– Treat the other person as you would want to be treated.

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener as we all have old habits to break. Frequently remind yourself that your goal is to listen to what the other person is saying. and Concentrate. Ask questions, reflect and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message.

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