Listening skills make all the difference in your success

It is said that to be a good speaker, the fundamental quality required is to be a good listener. Yes, it is an oxymoron, but it is also a reality. We have all heard about different types of speaking. One is the conversational style of speaking which we generally encounter. Then, when one interacts with an audience, one speaks differently.

Now, when you speak to a salesperson, you can expect his interaction to be on an entirely different plane and you can expect him to include a sales pitch. Then, we have motivational speakers who often interact in their own characteristic ways. Speech could have formal, semi-formal, or casual undertones to it. But when we consider listening, it becomes hard to believe that one could listen in multiple ways. But, the truth is that this one’s an elaborate subject and has many books written on it. There are even cases wherein corporates get trained to listen better!

When someone speaks, it is difficult to dedicate your full attention to the speaker all the time. Unless the conversation is directed to you or of your interest, you generally don’t listen. Just as an instance, if you find a random speech on any of the TV channels that you watch, you might not want to listen to it in detail unless it genuinely interests you. But, when someone speaks to you, listening carefully helps! Many readers will find it hard to believe that listening has an impact on our lives.

Active and passive listening are terms that we have come across right since our childhood. Active listening is attentive listening while passive listening is not so attentive listening. The latter is like listening to a song where you don’t mind not being able to grasp a section of lyrics because the music is good. We can now randomly segregate listeners into four types. Each of these listening traits has its strengths and ability to enhance your life.

1. Keen listener: A keen listener listens with the intent to act. A student in class might want to jot down class notes so he can revise them at home. Not entirely understanding what is being said may not bother him too much. He can take other references (internet/books) to gain a better understanding as and when required.

2. Sharp listener: A sharp listener is focused and intentional. Being a sharp listener comes with a prerequisite of already knowing well about what is being said. So, one could share contextual responses as and when required. A cricket expert doing a commentary gig is one of the examples. One listens closely to what is being said and shares highly contextualized responses. These responses are often aimed at amusing the audience.

3. Silent listener: There are several reasons why one may want to be a silent listener. Let us take the example of a setting when one is at home with elder family members. They are discussing a matter that does interest you a little, but about which, you may not know all that much. So, in such cases, one is unlikely to mind being a silent listener.

4. Dynamic listener: Being a dynamic listener is an important quality associated with leadership. It is oftentimes associated with puns such as wearing many hats or juggling many tasks. In a fast-paced work environment, when one has to do a whole lot of tasks right, all at the same time, being a dynamic listener helps. One is able to keep track of multiple conversations without missing out on any details. This makes sure that at the end of the day or the allocated time, most or all of one’s work is done.

Being a good listener makes one a great leader and a great leader takes time out for carefully listening to all inputs on offer. These inputs or feedback could be shared by employees, consumers, clients, or any other stakeholders, which includes law enforcers, investors, or even the general public. Besides leaders, being a good listener is important for an employee irrespective of his profile within an organization.

In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People written by Stephen Covey, he has segregated listening into five levels which are ignoring, pretending, selective, attentive, and empathic. It becomes easy to see that there is more to listening than being an active listener or a passive listener. In all conversations that you have, you will be at one of the stages of listening as Covey has defined. You may be ignoring the speaker at times, listening to him empathically at other times, or being at one of the stages shared in between. One cannot deny that it is hard to give one’s full attention to the speaker at all times. But, one has to try, for the simple reason that it does matter!

The best tip to be a better listener is to try to be one. When one is aware that the conversation that one is having is important, one must keep focused on it such that one derives the maximum value from the same. This does not have to be a work-related or academic conversation. Even conversations that you have with your friends or family retain a lot of value. Only when you listen carefully, you are able to materialize what is being said into action.

Ultimately, the onus lies on one to be sure about what matters and needs to be heard, and which conversation does not retain all that value. Being an audience to unnecessary views and comments is unlikely to be your cup of tea. So, one has to distill the nonsensical voices from the sensible ones that uplift you and make you a better person.

In essence, mastering the art of listening is not just about hearing words but understanding the nuances, emotions, and intentions behind them. It’s about cultivating empathy, building stronger connections, and fostering growth, both personally and professionally. Listening is a skill that needs to be given its due importance, for it is the gateway to learning and understanding. Developing listening skills will not only enrich your life but also serve as a powerful enabler in your journey towards success and fulfillment.

Christo Joseph, FRSA, AKC.
Director Strategy and Planning
Garden City University

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