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The Art of Listening

When we talk about ART, what comes to our mind? The artists i.e., the poet, sculptures, painters, and so on....But the word 'art' has a much deeper meaning. It is reflection of thoughts, feelings, emotions, anxieties, etc in harmony. Have you ever thought that even ‘listening’ could be an ART? Well, as you read along, you would know the importance of listening and how we can improve our listening habit to achieve our goals!

Communication is a two way process that depends on speaking and listening. In school, we have been taught how to read and write, isn't it? We were taught how to speak as well. But do you remember attending even a single lecture that taught us how to listen? Why? Is it that listening is less important than reading, writing or speaking? Then why there is no formal education on listening? May be because we know that God has given us two ears that hear very well. And we often heard our teachers saying phrases like 'listen attentively 'or ' pay attention' for they did their job to seek our attention. But seldom have they explained the necessary aural skills needed for effective listening.

Listening, is an 'art' and it needs to be learned and mastered. And for students it is a very essential art to be cultivated. If a child or any individual for that matter,  has not learned this art, his ability to understand and retain what he hears will be low and the message of the speaker can seldom be understood.

Hearing Vs Listening:

‘I hear you, but I am not listening...’

We often confuse listening with hearing. While hearing and listening may seem like they serve the same purpose, but the difference between the two is fairly significant. Only when we understand this difference, we will be able to apprehend the importance of listening. I have tried to simplify this in the table below:

Hearing

Listening

Power of perceiving sound, a physical process.

Hear something with thoughtful attention, a physical and mental process

Natural

Learned process, an art

Simple and basic

There-dimensional

Passive

Active

 

Listening is hard!

My story - The CCD cappuccino :)

It happened one day...

One of my old friends had called me up and we decided to meet at CCD the following day. I was so excited as we were meeting after a long time. When I reached CCD, she was already waiting there for me. She seemed a little disturbed but as I was so eager to meet her, I did not quite notice this. We ordered Cappuccino regular and a pastry for us. For a while we discussed old friends and some general talks. By then we received our order. She began to disclose why she was disturbed and what was going on in her life. I believed I was listening to her, but I wasn't doing anything more than sipping coffee. She was and her pain was excruciating. She was almost on the verge of crying while talking about her distressed relationship with her husband. I suddenly found myself saying "CCD Cappuccino is the best, I simply love it." She suddenly became quiet....Tears rolling down her cheeks, she got up and before I could say something she walked off. I sat there quietly, closed my eyes and thought for a while. I felt bad....I never thought I was such a bad listener. That day I realized one thing - being present and hearing somebody is anyone's cake, but to become a good listener is not easy, it doesn't come naturally. I understood that listening is an "art" and that I need to learn it.

But a million dollar question was...

But why is listening so hard?

As I began to research on how to improve my listening habit, I figured out that there are many barriers to listening like, know-it-all attitude of the listener; an uninteresting topic; listening not to understand but to reply; external distractions...... But then I came across a very interesting fact which struck the cord. That the average rate of speech for most people is 125 words per minute, but human brain is designed to like speed, it processes much faster. The words that race through our brain is much higher than 125 words per minute around 1000 to 3000 words per minute. So when we listen we tell our brain to listen at a much slower pace as compared to its capabilities, but this is difficult for the brain to do so as I said it is designed to like speed.

So what does this mean?

It means that when we are listening, we still have some spare time to think, our brain gets time to race through our thoughts, feelings, experiences and problems. The use and misuse of this spare thinking time holds the answer for how well a person can concentrate on the spoken words. In other words, how well can a person listen. So can we improve our listening skills? The good news is  - WE CAN!

Strategies to improve listening skills!

To improve your listening skills, what you need to do is to use this spare time efficiently. On further research and analyzing people, I observed that good listeners always engage in few activities while listening. They tend to direct a maximum amount of thought to the message being received leaving minimum time to travel elsewhere. Some of these activities are:

  1. Listen to Understand: Good listeners do not focus on what they are going to contribute in the conversation next, but they listen with an open mind to process and understand what the speaker is saying. They listen to comprehend, and not respond.
  2. Paraphrase: A good listener would distinguish the key points, mentally summarizes the points covered so far by the speaker and restate in their own words to achieve greater clarity.
  3. Listen between the lines: A good listener will try to find meaning that is not necessarily put in spoken words. They would also pay attention to non-verbal communication like the body language, facial expressions, the tone of voice to see if they have understood what the speaker is actually trying to communicate.
  4. Ask questions: Good listeners would ask open-ended questions making the speaker feel that they not only heard what was said but also comprehended it well for want of additional information. If its an emotional conversation they would provide support and ask the needs of the speaker.
  5. Do not interrupt: Good listeners would not interrupt or jump in the middle to share their knowledge or to give advice. They would wait for the speaker to finish first. However they may provide constructive feedback in the end that others would accept and it may provide alternative path to consider.
  6. Avoid distractions: Good listeners avoid distraction. Our mobile phones are the biggest distraction today- the ping of notifications on various apps or its continuous buzz immediately takes our attention as well as break the rhythm of the speaker. But good listeners keep their smart phones on silent mode or at bay. They also avoid looking at their watch and pay attention on the speaker.
  7. Body posture: This is the most important one as it gives confidence to the speaker to continue. Good listeners would face the speaker and makes eye contact. They would lean forward to show they are engaged and paying attention. They occasionally would nod and give feedback such as 'hmm', 'oh', 'really?', 'right', 'I see', to encourage the speaker.

Conclusion:

The art of listening is to listen to what is being said with utmost care, attention and affection. If you are capable of such listening then there is no chance of misunderstanding. If you can master the above key listening attributes, you would become a profound listener and it will prove to be a miracle for your GROWTH. There will be a huge transformation within yourself and you will also see a change in how others perceive you. This will also help you build harmonious relationship with others. Listening may seem small or of less importance but mastering this art will in a way help you achieve you goals. All I would like to say to the student readers is that – ‘Only if you listen, you will be able to comprehend and only then you can retain.’ Hence cultivate the ART of LISTENING!

Tip for you:

“If you're finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you to stay focused.”

Learning to listen is a continuous process and each day I try to improve my listening abilities, how about you?

Sunita Sarda | Advocate, Image and Soft skills Coach, Blogger and a Reiki Practitioner