Art of Listening: The Master Key to Your Personal and Professional Success
Some people are shunned by almost all. They are even despised by others. The reason is simple. They never listen to anyone. They always talk about themselves. They talk and talk and never let others say a sentence in conversations. They are not at all interested in other’s matters. They are not even concerned about others. There are innumerable such people around us. They are not aware of what others think of them. Many managers and executives are like this. That is why the famous Japanese management Guru Lee Iacocca once remarked, ‘I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen’.
The power of Listening
Very few people realize the importance of the art of listening. In today’s high tech, high speed world communication is more important than ever, yet we seem to devote lesser time to really listen to one another. We actually under estimate the magical powers of listening in our relationships. Listening is caring. To listen intently with genuine interest is the highest compliment one can pay anyone. As the famous American author Bryant H. McGill rightly pointed out; ‘One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say’.
The magical powers of genuine listening have been ignored today. It helps build relationships and careers. Listening ensures understanding, solves problems, resolves conflicts, and improves performance. The art of communication really lies in listening. It saves money, marriages and friendships. The famous German American philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich said: ‘The first duty of love is to listen”.
Listening is one of our greatest personal natural resources. As the world famous business man and the bestselling author and columnist Harvey Mackay said ; ‘You learn when you listen, you earn when you listen-not just money, but respect”. Through listening wholeheartedly and unconditionally, you will reap a multitude of rewards that will strengthen and widen your personal relationships and lead you to personal and professional success.
Counselling and listening
The most important skill in counselling is listening – empathetic listening. Listening expresses your love and touches others’ hearts. It acts as a tonic of healing and connectedness. The famous American author and professor at the University of California, Rachel Naom Remen says: ‘The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen, just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attendance’.
Paul Turnier, the well known Swiss physician and counsellor, revealed the secret of his success in his profession; ‘I do love them and listen to them. They come and share their feelings and fears freely with me. I simply listen to them with empathy. This alone gives a great relief for their disturbed minds.
The magical healing powers of listening are boundless. The most basic of all needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. Listening gives an emotional support to people who are in distress. It helps to solve their own problems by themselves.
‘Befrienders world wide’ is a support group working to prevent suicides worldwide. They listen to and help people without judging them. They understand the value of listening in providing emotional support to people and preventing suicides. This valuable service is given via telephone help lines, SMS messaging, face to face, outreach partnership and internet. Persons under distress can talk to a ‘befriender’ confidentially. This listening movement started in London in 1953 and now has support centers in 40 countries.
How to be a good Listener
Genuine listening has become a rare gift. People are devoting less and less time to listen to one another. Even in families the members don’t find time to listen to each other.
As the famous ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes reminded us; ‘We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less’. A good listener will listen to not only what is said, but also what is left unsaid or partially said. Listening requires two ears: one for meaning one for feeling.
Effective listening involves observing the speaker’s body language also and noticing the inconsistencies between verbal and nonverbal message.
Eleven golden tips for effective listening
- Stop talking:
There is a general tendency for most of the individuals to talk more. You are unable to listen if you are talking. So you have to stop talking first and then fully concentrate on listening with mental alertness and humility. As Shakespeare said: ‘Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice’. (Hamlet)
- Put the talker at ease
Help the person feel free and confident to talk. Establish good rapport and provide permissive environment.
- Show him that you want to listen
Show genuine interest to listen, through your body language. As Stephen Covey rightly advised; ‘ Listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply’.
- Remove distractions
When you are listening to somebody in your office or home avoid receiving telephone calls, talking to others, signing papers, watching TV etc. Involve in the active listening alone, avoiding all distractions.
- Empathize with the talker
Try to understand the other person’s, point of view, ideology and feeling and welcome his ideas.
- Be patient
Don’t look at your watch impatiently. Allow him enough time to talk freely. Don’t interrupt him with impatient questions or remarks.
- Hold your temper
When you hear something you dislike or differ, don’t lose your temper and react immediately. Anger spoils common sense and grasping capacity. As Gautama Buddha said, ‘The sharpest sword is a word spoken in wrath’.
- Paraphrasing or reflecting
Paraphrasing plays back just the verbal part of the message and reflecting plays back the summary of total message you have understood from him, in your own words. These two show non-judgmental understanding and acceptance, and demonstrate empathy and positive regard.
- Ask questions
You can get clarifications by asking questions. This will encourage the talker and enlighten the listener.
- Listen to the tone of voice
The talker may use pitch, tone, volume of voice to emphasise what is being said. The real meaning of the words may vary according to how they are said. Sometimes silence is also meaningful.
- Watch the non verbal cues
Gestures, facial expression, eye movement, postures etc. reveal a lot of things, than the words. The father of modern management Peter Drucker once said: ‘The most important thing in communication is hearing what is not said’.
Non verbal listening
In order to become a good listener, you have to make necessary changes in your attitude, habit and techniques used. These are reflected in your non verbal cues. You can encourage and motivate the speaker by adopting the following non-verbal cues represented by the acronym ‘SOLEMN’.
The word LISTEN contains the same letters in the word SILENT. A silent atmosphere encourages the talker and helps you to listen better. You have to be silent by stopping your talking. According to the Chinese philosopher LaoTsu; ‘Silence is a source of great strength’.
An open body posture will keep your mind also open. Folded or crossed arms and legs demonstrate defensive mentality or even lack of sincerity. Clasping the hands together and hiding the palms, make you appear less open and honest.
A slight forward lean is best for indicating your attentiveness and alertness. Leaning back leisurely may indicate the opposite.
E- Eye contact:
Eye contact is essential for showing your attentiveness and interest in listening. Lack of eye contact makes the talker feel that you are not at all interested to listen to him.
Mirroring is the automatic reflection of the facial expression or body posture used by the talker and can be a good sign of attentive listening. When he is in a happy mood you can listen with a smile, but when he is in sorrow, smiling is not appropriate, then, you can express your empathy with a similar facial expression. Mirroring improves your rapport with him and shows that you have understood and acknowledged his feelings and emotions also.
Nodding acknowledges the speaker’s words ad encourages him to continue.
In short, you have to listen not only with your ears, but also with your eyes, with your face, and with your entire body. Your body language should be sincere and natural. As the famous British author Gary Hopkins warned; ‘Never allow your ego to diminish your ability to listen’. The art of listening is the master key to your personal and professional success. As the well known American play write and entrepreneur Wilson Mizner, pointed out; ‘A good listener is not only popular everywhere; but after a while, he gets to know something’.
Listen to your inner voice too
As we listen to others, we must listen to our inner voice too, the voice of our inner self. When one fails to listen to his inner self, he is not attuned to his soul and this will lead to internal disharmony and unhappiness. As Steve Jobs advised; ‘Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. JOHN MUZHUTHETTU is a Human Resource Consultant, National Trainer and Counselor. Formerly he was the Deputy Chief Engineer, Kerala State Electricity Board and is still working as an external faculty of HRD Programmes of KSEB. He is also a faculty of Department of Management Studies, Mar Augusthinose College, Ramapuram, under M.G.University, Kerala. He is the PG course co-ordinator of MHRM.
He is columnist in several Magazines, like ‘Business Deepika’, ‘Creative Business’, ‘Donbosco’ etc. His articles have been published in many magazines and journals. His several speeches have been aired by All India Radio. His interviews on various subjects have been telecasted by Power Vision TV . He is the author of five best-selling books:
- ‘Stress-Manassasthra- Aathmeeya Pariharangel’. (Current Books, Thrissur) 4th Edition
- Vijayiyude Vyakthithwam (Current Books, Thrissur)
- Jeevitham Santhushtamakan, Nithya Yauvanam Nedan.(css,Thiruvalla)2ndEdition
- Emotional Intelligence-Jeevithavijayathinu (CSS, Thiruvalla)
- Vijayarahsyangal (Current Books, Thrissur)
As a trainer, he has conducted more than thousand seminars and workshops for teachers, parents, students, executives and others, on several subjects like Stress Management, Time Management, Personality Development, Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual intelligence for Excellence, Communicative Skills, Assertiveness, Motivation, Study Skills, Effective Parenting, Counselling Skills etc. He is an external training faculty of Power Engineers Training and Research Centre of KSEB. He is an external faculty of IMG Cochin. He is also the Secretary of Upasana Cultural Centre, Thodupuzha. Email: (John_muzhuthettu@rediffmail.com)
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