Do you listen enough?

One of the key ingredients for success in career during adulthood is the ability to manage relationships. Many adults, while having had the privilege of schooling, pursuing higher education and eventually graduating with flying colors, take a while and encounter a few falls before they accomplish something of significance. There is a definite reason for this.

Taught not to listen

Our current system of education was conceived during the time of industrial revolution. The industrial era required people to focus on production and output-related performance. As such, human relationship and the dynamics therein were not a priority. Consequently, educational institutions in the past and present focus almost exclusively on teaching people academic subjects in an attempt to prepare them for a specific workplace role. There was/is a lack of emphasis on developing students’ people-skills in almost every school and university.

While this trend is slowly changing in response to the new world order (information boom, social networking, tribal leadership, people power, etc.), it is far from gone. One would be shocked to see that many schools continue to operate on the basis of an educational philosophy founded in the 19th century factory-era.

However, since times have changed, societal values have changed as well. The 21st century rewards people who generate ideas and create movements of people around these ideas. The 21st century is an era where the only way to succeed is to effectively harness and manage people via appropriate networking tools, be it virtual or physical. As such, there is no denying or understating the importance of establishing and sustaining meaningful interpersonal and professional relationships if one is to achieve his/her life goals.

Re-visiting Listening

Listening is one the most crucial elements required for relationships to work. Listening facilitates and consolidates understanding of people and their inner workings through messages manifested in behavior, thought patterns and emotional responses. Without fully understanding people, it is difficult to handle the complexities involved in relationships. Unfortunately, most people do not know this, hence hardly practice the same.

In general, people are more comfortable talking than listening. For many, listening is a specialized skill reserved for people in the counseling profession. As a matter of fact, universities with counseling major offer semester-long classes on the subject of Active Listening, as if this is an exclusive skill needed only by counselors or those in the helping profession.

The lack of ability in listening in day-to-day life is also due to parents’ lack of modeling of such a behavior. How many of us can look back and proudly say that “my father and mother actively listened to everything I had to share with them back then” or “I was listened to by my teachers at school”?

Most of us were not listened to at school because teachers modeled talking more than listening (can’t really blame them because they were paid to talk, not listen). The same took place at home. Like teachers, parents told us a great number of things (mostly to do with what they expect from us and how they want us to behave to make them proud), and did very little to model the most important act in the process of relationship building.

In retrospect, it would have been absurd for parents to sit down and take time to listen to their children. The society would have punished them for doing this. Thus, people grew up believing that they need to talk their way through people and situations to succeed.

Listening: Success factor!

Contrary to this notion, tones of recent research indicate that a successful person is an emotionally intelligent individual, who’s got a realistic grasp of the fact that listening is the key to uncovering the secrets of understanding others and engaging in healthy relationships. An emotionally intelligent individual actively listens to gain deep, comprehensive understanding of people. He is effective in managing relationships because he truly understands people, instead of dealing with them at superficial, mechanical level.

Implications

All these have practical implications for teachers and parents living today! Without doubt, many of us still struggle to turn the table around and do what our teachers and parents did not do, i.e., LISTEN. I personally believe that children/students are the most misunderstood people on earth because they are simply not listened to. But by not listening to them, we are not being effective role models.

Emotional intelligence could be inculcated early in life, starting from home, continuing at school and maturing at workplace. All of relationships are founded on one’s willingness and ability to understand others. As such, there is no better way to mastering the art of forging and managing relationships than to learn how to engage in active listening through real-life examples set by teachers and parents on a daily basis.

How to?

While it may not come automatically, effective listening could be learned and utilized in a progressive manner. Some of the points to consider while listening to children/students are:

  • Pay attention by looking at the person you are listening to (maintain eye-contact)
  • Leave/drop everything else and focus on listening to the person talking to you
  • Listen to the feelings that accompany the words (message)
  • Show sincere involvement and interest in what the other person is talking about
  • From time to time, restate (in a summary form) what the other person just shared with you; e.g., “you are saying that you are angry at him because he didn’t show up for the meeting.” (note: here, the listener is restating both the message and the feeling without passing any judgmental comment)
  • If needed, ask clarification questions; e.g., “let me check if I understand you correctly…”
  • Be constantly aware and in control of your own feelings and opinions – listening is about understanding the other person, not advocating for your own ideals and feelings!
  • If you have to share your input or views, say them only after you have listened to everything that the person had to say
  • Most importantly, constantly remember that listening increases understanding of the other person’s thoughts, feelings and rationale for behaving in a certain manner – hence the time spent in listening strengthens relationships in the long-run

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