Friday, December 9, 2011

Are We Listening?

Are we Listening?

While waiting for a friend at a coffee shop, I observed a group of  youngsters chatting, smiling and asking questions amongst themselves. But I noticed that the boys and girls were all simultaneously talking grasping little of what others were saying.  It was just a babel of voices and no conversation.. This set me thinking  how good are we really  at listening skills. Do we pay full attention to what is being said before we respond? Do we  understand fully what is being communicated or just get bits of what is being said?.  To listen is just not to hear, hearing and listening are two different things. Hearing is an ability while listening is a skill. Listening happens when we give meaning to the sound heard. 

During important  meetings in the work place, we often see people listening only partly to what is being  said by a speaker.  The rest of the time they either crystallize their own thoughts on the subject without taking note of the points raised by the speaker or getting distracted by  the emails on the blackberry or having  small talks with person sitting adjacent.. We can easily  figure out from their body language whether people are listening to us  or not? The lack of eye contact, a bored expression, absence of any questions or asking irrelevant questions ,stifling yawns are clear pointers that our communication has failed to reach them. There are  many who are constantly distracted either by glancing at the watch or phone, or gazing at the laptop screen.  Sadly I do not see  this disconnect when people gossip! Simple, when you are interested in what is being spoken you pay more attention and hence listen better. Focus and interest are two essential things for good listening.

Another barrier in good listening skill is our tendency to interrupt the other person  with whom we are conversing in the middle of his talk. We hardly have the patience to wait for  the other person to complete his say.  The moment we hear the first two sentences, we presume what he/she wished to say and proceed to give  our views. We more often than not  frame  our sentences even while the other person was speaking paying little attention to what was being said. Interruption is a bane of good conversation and prevents good listening.

It is not necessary that one must be well versed on all subjects. If the matter spoken about is beyond our understanding or if we have nothing to contribute , it is best to listen and keep quiet instead of saying inane  things. A good listener knows when  and what to speak.

Apparently there are barriers which prevent us from listening. For example as a kid I was awfully scared of one teacher and this fear  invariably led to my failure  to listen to her and  was always caught on the wrong foot. Freedom from fear, a noiseless  and distraction-free ambience and convenient timings aid good listening. Imagine how poorly receptive you would be if your team leader has an impromptu discussion  in the cafeteria.  To become more perceptive ,we have to overcome barriers.

We spend  very little time at home being away at work. A few suggestions to optmise  our relationships by better listening with our near and dear  would not be out of place. We must create the right conditions for effective communication. We must set apart some time like dinner  or breakfast  when TV or computer or mobiles do not distract us unless emergent. Secondly, when you want people to listen ensure that you involve them, ask for ideas, suggestions, make it more interactive.  Thirdly, while talking  make it light hearted once a while  with some humorous anecdotes, stories. Lastly try to be less critical. This would apply for discussions at work place too.

A good listening skill is acquired by practice and helps in improving personal relations To me, listening is the single most effective way  of building trust and relationships.


  1. what a coincidence..only yesterday I was reading an article on the same thing..yes listening is a must to grow and understand.

  2. Very interesting! Retrospectively, i found most of my subordinates and friends suffering from the same problem- no one ever listens:( And i too follow suit. May be i should sit back and let what others converse sink in. Saves me from lot of troubles:)