In my view the one quality, which each one of us have to continually to develop is our ability to listen. We are used to listening to noise all around us. We need to learn to listen to silence. Listening is different from hearing. Most of the time we tend to hear. Active listening means understanding what is said, what is not said but meant and how it is said. This includes the verbal and non verbal behaviour of people.
I was a poor listener in the beginning of my life. As I grew up, I am developing the art of listening. Although it is a continuous journey, I believe it is a useful skill to invest in. One can never believe you have mastered the art of listening. It’s a life long journey to learn this art. But, one can experience the benefits of listening as you learn to develop it. You realise that you learn more as you listen more.
Most of us have a penchant for speaking. We get a kick listening to our own voice. In this process, we do not realise what we miss. Imagine going on a morning walk in a beautiful forest and listening to the birds. If we listen actively, we can smell , hear and feel nature all around us. On the other hand, many of us are busy with our mobile phones messaging others or talking on the phone while we are walking in the forest. This deprives us of a wonderful opportunity to connect with nature and listen to the beautiful melodies of the birds around us.
It is equally true in an organisational context. We as leaders have a tendency to express ourselves and want our teams to listen to us always. We are reluctant to listen to our colleagues and happily interrupt conversations to make our point. We get irritated when interrupted by our team members but feel it as a matter of right to do so ourselves. This way we do not realise how much we miss out on the invaluable views of our team members on different issues.
I was recently on a vacation. The silence of the forest in front of me taught me more than the noise of the cities. It taught me lessons on listening more than any course I could have attended. We get a lot of valuable inputs everyday from people around us. But we lose out most of it due to our poor listening skills. We either do not listen to them or cut them off just to make our own points.
Even if we reflect in our family environment, the scenario is not very different. We as parents want our children to listen to us all the time. I should admit as mothers are better listeners than most fathers. This may be more true especially when mothers spend time with their children. Children are inquisitive and have more questions than answers. Most of the time we tend to shut them up since we do not have the patience to listen to their curiosity.
It is time challenge ourselves. It is time to learn to listen to the silence around us. A morning walk in the woods or the garden. A quiet time listening to your favourite music. A digital detox of keeping away from our mobile phones may help us to listen better. Learning from the active listening in our family, friends or office colleagues may also be a good exercise to undertake.
While admiring the sunset over the ocean, while you can listen to the waves, you can also listen the silence of nature as in the picture above.
Listening is an art or a science ? Either way, we need to learn and practise it every day. We should not spend time debating whether it is an art or a science. We should spend time learning to listen from all the people around us who are better than us in this skill.
Let us start today.
S Ramesh Shankar