Apr 25, 2014

Why you should listen?

More of a rant but hoping it resonates with you too! So read on!

Over the years, I have realized that our listening abilities have deteriorated so much. One can observe this everywhere in the professional world - meeting rooms, one-on-one discussions and even social media conversations. Though we can attribute this change to our over-reliance on tech gadgets, something inherent in our human behavior has also changed. Is it lack of empathy? care? attention? I'm still searching for the right word.

Consider this scenario - a typical conference room with 4-5 people, trying to discuss a problem and take some important decision.

X decides to talk, he shares his point of view and elaborates for 2 minutes.
Then X turns towards a peer/senior (Y) and asks, "so what do you think?".
Y was lost in his own world, fiddling with his smartphone or looking at his laptop.
He lifts his head and says, "Oh I'm sorry, I got lost. Can you repeat what you were saying?"

Which one of these two characters reflect you the most? :-)

I have been at the receiving end (X) multiple times in my previous workplaces and frankly, I find it irritating and insensitive. I don't want to reason it out saying I'm a woman or I have a soft voice. The basic rule in any conversation is "If you talk, others listen; if others talk, you listen". It's as simple as that.

Because of such distractions in meetings, same points get discussed over and over. The timings get extended, no conclusion or decision gets made. Follow-up meetings are scheduled.

I always wonder how much man-hours would be saved if people are attentive in meetings and stick to the scheduled times. I wish for a solution that would switch off mobile phones automatically when you enter a meeting room. Or even have someone to collect your phones and hand them over only after the meeting is finished :-)

If this is the case for in-person meetings, I can't even imagine what happens behind the scenes in a remote conference call.

My suggestion - keep all distracting devices in your cubicles. If you *must* use a laptop for the meeting, then close all other applications that you don't need. Bring a notebook and a pen. Listen keenly to what the other person is saying. It shouldn't matter if the person has an American accent or not.

Hoping the following criteria to grab attention changes soon!

Why you should listen?

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”

Active listening can help you in multiple ways.

1) Believe it or not, you hear different perspectives, especially in discussions where you are brainstorming about various options. It helps to broaden your views and get a feel of how others perceive the problem.

2) A number of ideas come your way when you listen. A brilliant idea is nothing but a spark or a fresh change in your perspective - getting to the "aha" moment which was alluding you

3) If others notice that you listen, it helps a great deal in building trust. People open upto you and share their feelings.

4) When you do take the time to listen, try to imbibe all the information coming your way before you judge or criticize. Don't jump to conclusions immediately.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
- Stephen Covey

This can also help you in your own problem-solving abilities. Read "six thinking hats" by Edward de Bono where he prescribes an interesting model for individual and group problem solving with a conscious effort to listen without judgment.

Leaving you with a few quotes I like related to listening.

“It takes a great man to be a good listener.”
- Calvin Coolidge
“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
- Bernard M Baruch
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
- Ralph G Nichols

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