The Act of Listening

When last did you hear of a training program on listening skills? That must have been a while ago.

But how often do you see advertisements about the act of speaking? Oh, yes, those adverts are quite common. Experts are eager to teach you how to speak effectively. They want you to be a good speaker or communicator.


Because it is part of us as humans! We all want to talk. Everyone wants to be heard. So there is a large supply of “speakers” but short supply of good “listeners”.  Since economists make us understand that large supply of a good or service drives down its price; it follows that talking has become so cheap because it is available everywhere. That’s why you hear something like “talk is cheap” quite frequently.

What if we can listen more than we talk?

Oh, our lives would be much better. We would learn more and understand one another better. That’s why Stephen Covey opines in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that we should “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

But because we all want to talk, it becomes difficult for us to listen. Of course, there can’t be an effective communication if at least one party in a dialogue is not listening.

Imagine how frustrating it would be for you to be having a dialogue with your spouse and both of you are talking simultaneously; not allowing each other  to speak one at a time.

Imagine how horrific it would be for a guest speaker to stand on a podium and the audience is not giving him any attention.

Imagine how disturbing it would be for a pastor to be preaching without the congregation giving him any attention.

No doubt, speaking makes us feel good. It gives us an air of importance. We feel satisfied after pouring out our mind – good or bad.

For many people, speaking (or talking) gives them the opportunity to display their knowledge and dexterity. It becomes a case of “if you have it, flaunt it.” Hmmn, that’s not a bad idea. But there are many occasions – very many occasions – when you gain more by listening than talking. Publilius Syrus was right in saying: “Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage.”

Listening allows us to:

  • gain more knowledge of the subject on the table;
  • understand the point of view of the speaker;
  • learn more and be able to make better decisions;
  • gain more respect as a man/woman of few words;
  • attract people to ourselves as they become more comfortable disclosing certain things to us; and
  • generally maintain a better relationship with people

It is often said that “listening is healing.” That’s true. Imagine opening up to someone on an issue that deeply bothers you. How would you feel if the person calmly listens to you with rapt attention, and after you have finished, he smiles and offers you one form of advice or the other. You will definitely feel relieved. His action will be a soothing balm.

Compare that to a situation where your “listener” is impatient and keeps interrupting you every minute. As you speak, he receives calls or sends text messages on his mobile phone.  When you have finished speaking, he takes you back to your discussion and asks, “Sorry, how much did you say he owes you?” How would you feel?

There is no way you can truly listen to someone and be able to do something else at the same time. You will only be pretending to be listening.

Another great thing about listening is its ability to disarm an opponent. Let him do the talking while you listen. He would soon become uncomfortable as he wouldn’t know what exactly is going on in your mind.

Ask some of the ladies who have been able to keep relationships for long. They will confirm to you that one of their weapons is their ability to listen more and speak less. Men generally cherish that. Call it men’s ego; you won’t be too far from the fact. But you must also remember what Lao Tzu said about silence. He said, “Silence is a source of great strength.”

So if listening can be that powerful and useful, how come there are fewer listeners than “talkers”?

It’s because it takes a lot of effort to be a good listener. We constantly have the urge to speak out our minds, so keeping the tongue in check can be quite tasking.

Yet listening can be learned. It’s all about commitment. You and I can form the habit of listening; and the practice can start immediately. When this is well mastered, it would not take too long before those around you begin to notice the new you and draw closer.

Many people are under the wrong impression that salespeople talk too much and don’t listen. I disagree. The best salespeople are great listeners because that’s how they discover what buyers want. How else would you know what people want if you don’t listen to them? I like a popular Turkish proverb that says “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”

Make an inner decision that you will listen more than you speak as from today onward. It will soon become a habit and you will begin to enjoy the experience.

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