Are you listening?

Do you recall your school days? I often think of mine. During my times we had only one board – the State Board. The CBSE was primarily preferred by children of those whose parents had transferrable government jobs. School life was fairly routine and followed a predictable structured pattern. Teachers would teach. We would memorise and then have innumerable weekly/monthly tests and exams. Every vacation meant homework.

We were all told to hear what the teacher was saying, look at our notes and learn from the text book. Nobody taught us listening skills. We were told to stay quiet in class. Silence please! Do you think our teachers misinterpreted our silence as listening? Perhaps, they did. May be our parents too thought the same. We were not encouraged to question or ask. So, yes, may be our obedience was seen as listening to our elders.

What happens then when you jump into your professional life? It hits you right between the eyes – that listening is paramount. Because the only way you can navigate the toughest problems is by listening. So, how do you cultivate this skill that you were not taught in school but now as an adult need to imbibe and make sure you practice it if you want to find answers to problems?

It is said that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Currently, with most of us working from home, here is then an opportunity to fine tune our listening skills. This is one skill that needs constant polishing. Even leaders are known to overlook and/or overstep this crucial skill at times so going back to basics isn’t going to hurt anyone. 

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;
They listen with the intent to reply – Stephen Covey

This resonates does it not? Listening with the intent to reply is instinctive. This comes naturally because we were not taught anything different. As communicators/consultancies where everything that we do hinges on understanding the business or our clients, this is the first habit that we need to break. Keep a listening ear. Always. 

The art and science of asking questions
Is the source of all knowledge – Thomas Berger

One of the easiest ways to cultivate listening is by asking questions. Elementary schools today encourage students to read aloud. Loud reading is known to lead to asking questions that increases comprehension and understanding. As adults, we are wired to hear and culturally we live in a society that may consider us asking questions as being rude or too poky or downright inquisitive. Ask your questions in a non-threatening manner. Open-ended questions are a great way to see the bigger picture. Your genuine interest in the subject should be evident. Lean forward as you listen. 

Take notes.
They cost memories – Ralph Emerson

I am a habitual note writer. I jot down things. You will always find me with a notepad and pen. Research proves that writing notes is an easy way to build our listening skills. Keep referring to your notes to ask new questions. Technology today makes it possible to jot down notes on our phones or tablets. Why do you think most of the smartphones have a notes app? To jot down notes, obviously 😊

I have no special talents,
I am just passionately curious – Albert Einstein

I have a pet cat and I notice how inherently curious she is with just about anything. It is simply amazing what I learn from her. If you really want to learn something new, be curious. When you are curious, you will but ask questions. The reason you question and challenge the status quo is because you listened to that conversation that just took place. You circle back to listening. Be curious. Stay curious.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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