THE ART OF LISTENING: SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD
“Seek first to understand and then to be understood” is the fifth habit mentioned in the book “7 Habits of the Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. The meaning of this phrase often confuses people; it is simply, the ar t of listening. Many people face problems with others who don’t listen.
Many people are eager to do the reverse: “Seek first to talk and pretend to listen”. I call it the 5th habit of the less successful people”
So the question is “Why don’t people listen properly?”
After pondering about this topic and posing this question to quite a few people, here are a few points that bubbled up:
Why don’t people listen?
A common trait identified by the “I know everything” attitude. People tend to act like they know everything. Even by acquiring all the technical knowledge, there is always more than one method of achieving the intended goal.
When an individual’s pride gets in the way. “So this kid is going to teach me about life now?” This comes naturally with status and reputation.
c. Attention seeking:
This is the tendency to “take the spotlight” rather than share. The spotlight gives the speaker control and a position of power. In some cases, the listener may interrupt the speaker out of envy.
d. Lack of patience:
Everyone is in a hurry. Why wait and listen when there is something else more important waiting for you?
e. Lack of interest:
Why would you want to listen to something that doesn’t concern you? If someone starts talking about cosmetics to me, I will most likely be drawn away from the conversation (unless she’s an attractive woman!).
So, what happens after this?
a. Overlooking information:
You may dismiss useful information by premature withdrawal from a conversation.
b. Leaving a negative impression:
If you have a know-it-all attitude, you risk losing people’s respect and hurting relationships that maybe useful.
c. Slows down self-improvement:
In my personal opinion, not listening is equivalent to giving up. When you give up, you miss out on information that may benefit you.
Seek first to understand then to be understood:
a. Sharing wisdom through generosity:
Everyone loves giving advice. Regardless of whether they have been through the same situation or not, people never stop giving suggestions and advice to other people. Maybe they feel superior after doing that or maybe they just want to voice their opinion. Whatever the reason might be, I believe it’s an act of kindness and if you genuinely want to help someone, you should first listen to that person properly and then speak. You don’t want to process wrong information and assumption and give a quick tip.
b. Listen to Learn:
It’s simple, you learn when you listen. Why do speeches from famous people receive so many views on YouTube? It is because there are several messages and advices that can be drawn from them.
c. You are sharpening your saw:
I always call the human body a computer system. You need to regularly update your system. Your knowledge and your skills are your software. You should always install new software and update the ones that are already installed.
d. Peer-to-peer learning experience:
Personally for me, peer to peer learning has been one of the most effective ways of learning. When I talk to a friend, I tend to listen and get all the information he/she has. It’s stored in the back of my head and if I am really interested in the subject he was talking about, I go home and search about it on the internet and update myself.
Developing the habit of listening
a. Learn to prioritize people (Avoid people who waste your time):
In a social gathering, select people who you want to talk to and people who are important for you. And once you are done with that, slowly move to people who are less important to you.
“God must love stupid people, he made so many”. Everywhere you go, you tend to meet people who will just talk about unnecessary things and not let you talk to anyone. An example can be a drunken old friend who keeps complaining to you about how you don’t have time for them. Avoid them as much as possible!
b. Everyone has their own point of view, learn to respect it:
This step can be used by people in the marketing field. Whatever people say matters because they might be directly or indirectly your customers. Every time you talk to people about your ideas and products, people tend to tell you the current market scenario and their personal preferences and at times that’s priceless.
c. Transform your “I know everything” attitude to “Maybe he/she has a better idea” attitude (Swallow your ego):
Ego is an anticatalyst that slows down a lot of things. Trust me; you can’t know everything. So listen to everyone. It’s up to you to believe it or not, but at least make an effort to understand and respect what others have to say.
The ar t of listening is a life skill, it helps you build empathy – be it professionally or be it for your loved ones. Master that ar t, empower yourself and watch your relationships thrive!
How to act like you give a s**t.
As Abhisekh has pointed out, listening is of utmost importance and developing the habit of listening is a skill that you definitely want to have. However, there are some situations where you wish you were born without ears.
When you just can’t wiggle your way out of some rambling idiot that you just can’t afford to offend, the best thing to do is act like you are listening. It might sound like a slimy thing to do, but to be brutally honest, I’d rather cut my own ear off with a butter knife than hear Uncle Ramesh talk about his sordid bowel movements.
Here’s how you can fake listening, and get away with it.
1. Maintain Eye Contact
Look into the eyes of the person you are pretending to listen to. This is very important. The person you’re pretending to listen to might not believe you’re listening to them if you’re staring at the wall.
2. Nod like you understand
Drop a few calculated nods while the person speaks. You get extra points if you actually put on a face that makes you look like you’re interested.
3. Stare at them like you’re listening but think about something else.
If you really want to block out the noise, think about something else, like a dog chasing its tail. This may be slightly risky though, so tread carefully.
4. Smile periodically
Flash a smile while you’re nodding. It’s all about selling yourself.
5. Slip in a few “Oh really?”s
If you time it right, a simple “oh really?” or “ani k bho?” can cement your concentration in the particular subject you’re listening to. Of course, you’re still thinking about that dog chasing its tail.
6. Ask short questions
If you do happen to catch a few words like “… and there was a corn kernel!”, it will look like you’re paying attention if you say stuff like “a kernel?!”
7. Repeat what they said, to show that you understood what they said.
Say whatever they said, but just shift the words around. “So, the corn kernel was just floating there?”
Assure them that you hate to leave, and that you had a great time talking. Then slip away from the scene of the crime.
Words: Ankit Shakya
Illustration: Niren Tuladhar