Truly Listening is an art

A little unexpectedly, but quite clearly, listening completely has morphed into a difficult skill to practice. It is challenging today for people to listen completely to what the other person is saying.

The situation has been aggravated with modern lifestyle, and how people use devices at work and otherwise. Smartphones and tablets ensure that unattended communication trails you all the time. The notifications draw your attention, and considerable resolve is needed to be able to focus on the matter at hand. The ability to communicate anytime & anywhere has come with a price.

While gadgets might be a contributor, they have simply amplified what is a human weakness – we have difficulty focussing on the present moment. There is a constant urge to find the next thing to do while listening – formulating a reply, interjecting with opinions, or digressing to something totally different.

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

Stephen R. Covey

Recognising the Problem

It is important to understand that listening inadequately has consequences. To the person at the other end of the conversation, it conveys one or a number of the following:

  • A lack of interest in the conversation
  • A lack of respect for the speaker
  • Suggests that the listener has more important things to do
  • Introduces discomfort on whether the message is understood and will be acted upon
  • Induces self-doubt in the speaker, especially in a reporting relationship

There are other possible consequences which are detrimental to the intent of the conversation:

  • Strains the working relationship
  • Delay decisions / induce incorrect decisions
  • Trigger rework and reduce productivity
  • Hampers teamwork and collaboration

Doing something about it

While there are those who have reconciled to distracted conversations as the new normal, there is also recognition among most that this is a problem. In the case of meetings, setting ground rules helps. However, there are certainly ways to ensure that conversations are fruitful and rewarding.

“The art of conversation lies in listening.”

― Malcom Forbes

The following 6 simple guidelines, in my experience, lead to better conversations

1. Resist distractions

Any distractions which prompt one to look away from the speaker is trouble. Set devices to silent to avoid interruptions.

2. Immerse yourself

Reflect & engage deeply in the topic and the conversation. You may know a lot about the topic, or maybe not enough. Both scenarios offer potential to either enhance the conversation or to learn more.

3. Focus on purpose

At times you lose the intent with which you are having the conversation as it progresses. Bring your focus back to purpose.

4. Delve deeper

Shallow conversations do not bring any benefits. They do not uncover issues or provide learning. Conversations which are deeper are also more mentally stimulating and satisfying.

5. Build awareness

All skills need practice. Mindfulness practices such as meditation can go a long way in building present moment awareness – training the mind to stick to the present rather than leaping to the past or the future.

6. Express respect and gratitude

Approach the conversation by expressing respect and gratitude for the other party – for information and knowledge shared, time invested and interest shown.

The approach to a conversation is a choice, irrespective of the environment we are in.

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Bharath Ramakrishnan is a Lead Consultant in Human Capital Management. His focus area is HR Technology. He has over 23 years of experience in the technology industry. He regularly writes articles for business magazines and on LinkedIn. He also writes short stories and life lessons articles. He is a voracious reader and his other interests include mindfulness, chess, and jogging. He is a coffee lover!