“The art of conversation lies in listening.” – Malcolm Forbes.

If someone asked you to choose your favourite person among the people you know, whom would you pick? The truth is you would choose a person who listens to you. You would like a person not by virtue of friendship or a relationship, but more because of the person’s nature to lend their ears to listen.  The skill of listening is key to learning and growing in your career.  So, consciously learn to listen, and then you will be able to listen to learn.

The impact of listening

Listening reinforces and supports questioning.  In my last blog, I wrote about the power of questioning and how it reinforces and supports listening. If you listen actively, you can learn from the person speaking. When you listen empathetically, you can understand the person emotionally and deeply. If you pretend to listen or ignore, then you will irritate the person who is talking to you. So, engaging people by listening will make them happy whereas ignoring would annoy them. Triggering positive or negative emotions in people depends on the way we listen.  

Distractions, Virtuality and Its Impact

In the present days of social media and smartphone distractions, getting people to listen and have a longer span of attention is a challenge. You travel in a train, bus, or metro, and look around, you would see over 95% of the passengers, sitting or standing staring at their mobile devices with their heads drooped down. Swiping and swiping through bottomless reels and social media pages. They do not look around, to observe reality, but are immersed in the virtual world. Perspectives are lost in this journey and our society is losing the skill of listening. 

The immersive nature of these devices is killing our power of the senses. Of the five senses, hearing and sight are the ones we can consciously choose to use or not. We can close our eyes not to see and deliberately switch off and ignore to hear. The other senses we anyway must use them. We eat, and so we taste, we breathe, and so we smell, and we handle food and things and hence the sense of touch. Instead of making our auditory and visual senses stronger, by observing and listening, in the present real world, we make them weaker day by day being hooked to virtuality. 

Respect & Listening

The best way to show respect to someone is by listening to them. How often do you see people that you speak to, do not listen but are more interested in sharing their views, or sometimes seen fiddling with things, or sneakily looking at their phones while they pretend to listen? It would be annoying to speak to someone like that. One would feel disrespected and ignored in such interactions.  

There are people with closed minds who strongly adhere to their belief systems and always think that what they believe is correct and others are wrong. They may not be open to listening to other perspectives, or a different belief system.  

Would you agree now that listening is the most important skill among the various components of communication skills, such as reading, writing, speaking, and presenting? Listening as a skill is often overlooked in school curricula, whereas greater emphasis is placed on other language skills and technical skills. Some of the schools have language labs focussing on teaching listening skills. It is a welcome change, but only a handful of schools have the inclination, mindset, and funds to set up these language labs.  

Types of Listening

There are several types of listening that we exhibit. They could include Fake Listening, Selective Listening, Active Listening, and Empathetic Listening, where the latter two are the ones that we should engage in.  

Fake Listening is when someone appears to be paying attention by nodding and maintaining eye contact but is disengaged. This often happens in dull environments, like classrooms, where students might use this tactic. 

Selective Listening occurs when a person only listens to what they desire to hear and conveniently ignores other information. This happens during long speeches seminars and lectures. You also listen when you like the person else ignore.  

Active listening involves fully engaging with the speaker, understanding all the information being conveyed, and asking questions for clarification. It is considered effective listening. 

Empathetic listening is the highest form of listening, involving not only hearing the words but also understanding the feelings behind them. This skill is not innate and must be developed through practice. 

Good listeners reject Fake and Selective listening and strive to practice Active and Empathetic listening consistently.  Listening to the aspirations, grievances, and pain points of your team members and customers will make you an effective leader. You may not be able to solve all their issues, but listening to them will provide emotional support and care.

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