We have four modes of communication in general:
Many schools inculcate in the students a reading habit that helps them in learning everything else. They teach specific courses to improve children’s communication skills which mostly mean speaking and writing abilities. In fact, there are entire university programs that help one become a better writer or an influential speaker. There are even speed reading courses available in many languages to make one read faster and hence acquire more knowledge at a quick pace.
The fourth communication mode, i.e., listening, is often ignored, although it is an invaluable art that has a massive effect on our relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.
I realized that for the most part of my life during discussions, when I listened to someone, 50% or more of my brain resources had been busy preparing a counter argument to what the other person was talking about. And as soon as I found a break between their sentences, that is the space I could enter into, interrupt their talk and deliver the decisive blows that would make them
- stunned first,
- then overwhelmed with reality sinking in, and
- finally become full of praise for my exceptional understanding of the world and its complex inner workings.
But none of that ever happened. Think about it. How many times at the end of a passionate discussion, someone has thanked you and told you how your arguments opened their eyes and made them look at things they never imagined before?
Nobody really cared how right I was, until I discovered how wrong I was. And that most people in the world behave that way.
We are preparing our replies while listening to someone. After all, nobody can match the level to which we grasp even the most complex stuff around us, right? We interrupt others during their talk and we cannot wait to prove the ‘actual reality’. We are so full of knowledge that we don’t really feel any need to listen to someone and learn how interesting their viewpoint could be.
In fact, it was a great relief for me that the world doesn’t need my opinions. And people around me would do just fine even if I don’t lead them to the ‘truth’ in a discussion. In the grand scheme of things, I and the little ‘truths’ I have constructed in my mind are not important at all.
Then, I started to listen more without judging others’ position and preparing a response in the meanwhile. The best listening happens when we do it exactly for the sake of listening. I have felt a visible improvement in the quality of my relationships, quality of the discussions I have been involved in and overall goodwill I build with people.
No wonder many famous authors emphasized on this fundamental quality in different ways.
- The 5th habit in Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people describes the virtues of empathic listening to understand a person: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
- Dale Carnegie in How to win friends and influence people mentions the following in six ways to make people like you: “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves”.
- There is a quote I remember from The magic of thinking big: “Big people monopolize the listening. Small people monopolize the talking”.
Shutting the mouth when someone is talking about what you want to oppose or add a vital piece of information is easier said than done. But with practice, it happens and leaves you at the end of a conversation with more joy than you could ever extract by spilling your mind.
On a final note, sometimes a need does arise when one has to listen very carefully to someone in need of advice about a matter you know in depth. Here, sharing your opinions can really help them figure out a solution to their problem. Although I am a strong opponent of a smartphone intervening a conversation, I do use it on such occasions. I tell the other person in the start that I would note down their important points in my note app while listening with full concentration, in addition to writing any helpful points that arise as a result.