Monday, August 25, 2014

Are you listening?

How much do we listen? I mean 'really' listen. Listening is a part of our daily life but something we do less and less. Listening is more important than talking - we do have two ears and one mouth. But - We don't really listen much. As we go about our daily routines, submerged in our mobile phone rings and pings, and one way conversations with friends, family, colleagues and everyone else, some of which we even call as discussions, the one thing we do less and less is to listen.

And why am I writing a post on this? Well answer this - Do we want to create better impressions, make lifelong friends, keep our spouse happy, grow in our careers, impress our Bosses, lead teams to success, grow businesses etc, etc? Chances are you are saying - Yes! If so then learn to listen. One of the fundamental lessons in life is - to learn and grow - first listen. 

I started my career in sales and one of the first things I learnt was that, to be able to sell better, - one needs to listen better. Listen to potential customers, listen to the existing customers, listen to bosses and colleagues. So l listened and I learnt. I did pretty well in sales (if I may say so myself) and one of the reasons was that, I was a problem solution salesperson, I was an emotional salesperson, I was a price driven salesperson, and every other type of salesperson there could be - based on listening and who I was selling to, what I was selling, where & when. My sales strategy stemmed from listening well and applying that in conjunction with other things relevant.

Later on as I moved to marketing and then to running and managing businesses, the one thing that has helped me the most is to listen.

Even in daily life, whether it is with family or with friends or out in the market dealing with shopkeepers, or in the streets getting a taxi driver to go where you want to go, listening works as it helps us to communicate better and that helps in getting things done better.

Now, I am not perfect, and I still make the mistake of talking without listening at times. We are so eager to be heard and to say what we want to say or to make an impression that we forget that the key to getting heard is not to talk and talk and talk, but to listen and listen and then talk and then listen again. Whether it's our professional or personal life, what will get us to learn and solve problems and grow as Individuals and leaders is our ability to listen first and then talk or not talk. At times when you listen well, you realize that talking is not always necessary.  You can get more done by talking less and listening more. It is not imperative to let the other person know you also know something about the topic. You don't have to have the solution to every problem. Sometimes listening itself is a solution.

Easier said than done. Most of us like to talk and hear the sound of our own voice. Just try and recall someone telling you about a conversation they had with someone else. Mostly it would be - I told her this and then I told her that. How many times does this person actually tell you what the other person was saying? Mostly never. The reason is not that the other person wasn't talking but because this one wasn't listening. Now suppose the other person comes to you and tells you about the same conversation - the same thing happens. She too wasn't listening but only talking. It's happening around us all the time. We all talk about how a person is very successful because they can really speak well or is a good orators. But in reality if this person is really successful, you will see they are also great listeners. Some very successful people in fact do not talk much but they listen very well.

A conversation is when two people talking. - "Conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people who are following rules of etiquette. It is polite give and take of subjects thought of by people talking with each other."

And - "Listening is often confused with hearing. While hearing is a biological process that can be scientifically explained, listening is a neurological cognitive regarding the processing of auditory stimuli received by the auditory system. Hearing is always occurring, most of the time subconsciously. Listening is the interpretative action taken by the listener in order to understand and potentially make meaning out of the sound waves."

Why give conversations or listening so much importance? Well it's because the better we are at listening the more we learn, the better we can converse & communicate and solve problems and be heard. Ah! There it comes again - Be heard. Yes it does. To be heard and then to be listened to - means what you say is relevant and makes sense and is important enough. For what you are saying to be relevant & make sense - you should know the topic, the intention, the current perspective and, the people who are part of the conversation, and then, articulate your thoughts well. To do that first you have to listen and understand. The more you listen the more you learn about the people, the topic, the perceptions etc, and the more you know, the better you can talk about it or not ;-)

So when to speak, what to speak, how to speak to be heard, all depends on how well you listened. Think of all the successful people you may have met who are well respected and looked up to. If you observe them you will notice they listen more than they talk.

Try it today. Try and be patient and listen. Listen to your Boss (I know we all do but this time really listen, don't just hear him/her), your colleagues, your boyfriend, girlfriend, wife (yes her too), husband, the child, parents, the customer, and everyone else. Not selective listening - where you listen to only what you want to hear, but listen to what they are saying. And it will change your perspective and you will realize, you now know them a bit better, and can interact with them better. Just imagine if you did this every day, and the impact it can make in your life. It's not the easiest thing to do, but, if you are conscious of it, and make listening a habit, you will be the gainer in the long term and short term too.

Being a good listener is an important part of improving our overall communication skills, and will write a post on communication skills too sometime soon. Meanwhile would love to hear of your experiences on listening and conversations. Please comment below and share your opinions and experiences on the same.

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