Article (September-2017)


Lend me your ears

Brigadier Sushil Bhasin

Designation : -   Founder & CEO

Organization : -  SB Consulting, Mumbai


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I remember how a fellow soldier, when given a list of items to be brought from the military canteen, was told 'jo like kar diya hai woh lao' (bring the items listed in writing) returned to tell me, to my surprise, that liquor was out of stock.

"Why are you telling me this?" I said.

"Because you asked me to", he replied. "Sir, you said liquor lao."

It suddenly struck me. He had not been listening. He had mixed up 'likhkar' with 'liquor'. In his defence the words do sound similar but it happened because he was not paying attention. And my fault, I did not take feedback. I made no efforts to confirm whether what he heard was the same as what I said. The consequences of such a miscommunication can be as serious in war as they can be in life where effective communication is the keystone on which all relationships - personal, social and professional are built.

Importance of listening
We were conditioned to be poor listeners. The emphasis is on 'speaking' when it comes to being groomed by parents or teachers. No one ever taught us how to 'listen'. There was no mention of it and we never focused on the importance of the 'art of listening' as a vital aspect of effective communication. It was something that just happened without any conscious effort.
While often used synonymously, hearing and listening are really two very different things. Hearing is involuntary and uncontrollable. Listening, however, requires an attention.

Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing - impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences.

When I tell you something, do you listen to me? Probably not. You may well be listening to what 'you' think I am saying. And at the same time, ironically, preparing myself for what I am going to say in return.

The epithet 'God gave us one mouth and two ears' is telling. The art of listening is indeed the most neglected communication skills. Yet parents or teachers who are justifiably focused on developing speaking skills do not teach the art of listening deeply. Listening is something that one is expected to do without any conscious effort.

While often used synonymously, hearing and listening are really two very different things.

Hearing is involuntary and uncontrollable. Listening, however, requires focused attention.

What is Listening?
It is a process. Let us take the example of a speaker on the stage. He speaks his content at quite a speed. To be precise, sound travels at a speed of 770 MPH. That is about 33% faster than a modern aircraft.
This happens in a few clear steps :-
  • Step 1. Hearing. The sound enters the eardrums and travels to the brain.
  • Step 2. Attending. On receiving the signal, the brain selects the portion to pay attention to. 
  • Step 3. Comprehension. How does it matter to me? The context and application. 
  • Step 4. Registering. Storing in the memory for a subsequent recall.
For acquiring effective and meaningful communication skills, it is absolutely necessary to master the art of "active listening". I have coined an expression to denote this called LOL, an acronym for Listen Out Loud. I am talking about focused attentive listening. It involves giving 100% attention to the person who is talking. Not missing out a word. Not playing with your mobile phone or even day - dreaming. If you are vulnerable to distractions, you are likely to lose focus.
Listening demands conscious action. Here is what you do to be a great listener.
7 tips you cannot afford to miss to enhance your listening skills
1. Do not pretend to be paying attention when you are not.
2. Multi tasking is a myth. You cannot be paying 100% attention to someone while playing a video game, checking your 'whatsapp' or sending a sms.
3. Avoid having s pre - set notion or a mindset that the subject could be boring.
4. Be patient. Listen to the entire thing, or at least a part without responding to every bit of what the speaker says. Let him finish what he has to say.
5. Do not be prejudiced by his reputation. He may have something pertinent to say, even if he is known to be a boring guy.
6. Do not take anything personally and bounce back unnecessarily.
7. Do not digress and take the conversation in another direction. Focus on the subject of the conversation.
It is important to listen to what is being said. It is also important to listen to what was 'not' said but implied. The one who does not listen well cannot read between the lines or often misunderstands what is being said.
At a lecture or seminar, I pay attention to all the good aspects of in the speech or presentation. I do not pay attention to what is not done well or what I already know or what I can personally do better. The focus remains on learning as much as possible from the experience. It is clear that we can only speak of what we know but listening brings to us that which we may not have known at all.
Listening is therefore the ultimate medium of acquiring fresh insights.
Have you even found yourself hearing what you want to hear and not what was actually said? How many times have you engaged in a dispute with an adversary and, instead of listening to what was being said, looked for an opportunity to jump right in and comment.
Effectiveness of communication rests on the twin pillars of clear expression and empathetic listening or LOL.