I actually wanted to write the title urging people to “Listen to shut up” then I felt, perhaps everyone may not like it that way! But hang on, this article is certainly not that cliche,on why you must listen and speak less and all that crap around that Victorian model. I say, scream when you must speak and yell when you must whisper, but the whole point is that, you will not have to do any of this, if and only if you are able to develop your listening and this is absolutely not about only listening to the words! Join me here to explore what is that, we can go on to listen each moment, beyond words and why not paying attention necessitates us to spend so much of energy, time and words to just have the simplest of the things done or how we end up screwing up things because of this! So here we go!
Often, when people are talk about listening- they refer to the spoken word- what they hear- sure enough that is what it is and what it should imply- but what if I told you that you also need to see to listen, yes see- observe and gauge what is not been said through the spoken word but also through the cues of non verbal communication- the tense posture, the relaxed demeanor- whatever the context could be- the point here is that- when we focus only on what is spoken and don’t factor in the totality around the spoken word- we miss the point in a big way! I mean, if you happen to be by any chance a person who has been trained in the areas of security, intelligence etc. you know what I am saying- and yes- it does not have to be that high end as well- even your kindergarten teachers or the psychologists that you perhaps visit- are well equipped to figure out what is actually being communicated by listening into what is not been said alongside what is been said!
Now you may ask, fair deal- so what’s so difficult around this- well, the problem is that we are natural bad listeners, all of us- you and I included- you see the human brain the way we have evolved- is attuned to pick up distress, emergency and crazy moments over stable, steady, happy moments as a default- that’s our survival ticket- so don’t even bother complaining about it! Hence, we have so many experts always offering guidance and teachings around what is now fashionably called- directed/focused listening- well they are basically asking you to pay attention- nothing more and nothing less. The fact remains that, you pay attention during that training, because either you or your office has paid for that session and post that it’s again back to default settings in no time!
So why do we always slip back to default settings of only listening to emergency/urgency and just wander around our imaginary world as people keep on speaking, blabbering- well there are two parts to this- one- believe it or not- over 90% of what is spoken is pure garbage- you see what the neighbor’s cat did, how that dog bit the delivery guy, who eloped with whom, which President is dumber than who else, who wore which dress, who tripped, who fell, who won the lottery- now all of this rhetoric, the moment it begins- your brains is smarter than you think- it just asks one simple question- is any of this shit- a cause of concern for me- am I under threat- do I need to take any action- if the answers are no- than your brain allows that to play on like some gibberish background noise and hence when you are often asked in the middle- what did I say- you are actually trying to save your self!
The second important part is the fact that your brain is so smart than you can think that it uses sight/ your eyes to make out what the body language of the person is- is there a state of urgency, is that all to what is been said- is there anything that needs to be sought further- only when that space raises a concern of a veiled threat because something is been hidden, that you will get a signal, be prompted to ask more questions and that engagement of focused listening and an engaged conversation will continue until the brain looses its interest either it has got all what it needs or has concluded that this all too was a waste of time! So what about the listening part and why does Listening end up being greater than speaking?
When we practise what I call as directed/ focused listening , we end up helping our brain in multiple ways- see you are not going to cut the other person off, as the person is speaking- so you save time off your brain to rearrange those words, that logical flow and everything that will help you to throw your point of view even before the other one has completed theirs! So as a deliberate effort, once you stop cutting people- you get to hear their complete point of view, more than half of the times (unless you are the odd one- being the right person in the wrong place or the wrong person in the right place) if you listen, to the other person completely, you will be left with only few limited options- one could be asking that person to get lost as what was said has nothing to do with you, or now that you have heard the person and now you will act or take some action or you will seek more information/ more clarity and propose next steps. So in effect, you have hardly had to talk! You just saved yourself from wasting so much of energy that could have gone in- had you not listened with intent and focus- no more long meetings, no more reviews, no more, long emails, no more conference calls, all done with a few sessions of directed listening and being in the now when it matters the most! See when you really listen, you also learn and when you learn you can act, when you act- the task is done! Remember your school days, why do you think you have all that stuff packed in your brain- well back then you listened because you knew that only if you listened, you will understand and only if you have that crucial understanding , will you be able to apply and only when you apply what you have learnt, will you be able to sustain your success and live a life that you cherish and plan for! So this is why listening is always more potent and greater than speaking! Now, you may want to ask, me, whatever happened to that listening to what has not been spoken? Sure, read on…
Even as your would have factored that directed and applied listening is so effective, the fact remains, that is easier said than done! See our brain is constantly scanning our environments, with only one agenda to keep us safe- safe as in not that anyone is coming to take you out- just to ensure that the setting that you have chosen- is not being breached. Let me explain- say you are having an exit interview of a colleague- known or unknown to you- the brains of the person with whom you are speaking and your brain will be by default scanning for visible presence of either your manager or the manager of the person who is leaving- because both of them would be curious to know what is been said! The more toxic and dramatic the place- the higher will be the alertness of your brain and just as for this instance- every second you spend in your office, speaking with friends, family in a group setting, your brain is constantly working around the possible threats that may come your way- when you cracked a joke- who laughed and who shrugged- you see not everyone is going to be vocal enough- like I normally am- to walk into your face and say- boss- you’ve had enough of your shit, now move on or stay quiet! As people develop body language cues to express their emotions when words get drowned, your brain switches its scanner on and picks up these and that’s how communication is floating and is nudged around in a group setting! It is in settings like these, training classes, meetings – whether you are discussing critical details about something important with an individual or you are discussing something with many- your brain’s ability to scan the unspoken word- will help you know exactly what you need to speak next, with whim and possibly also when!
If you ever want to make a difference to your life or the lives of others, by your work, art, influence, the first step that you must embrace is to develop an unlimited amount to patience to listen- it’s only when you allow people to connect, express and feel safe that you will be able to understand them completely and only when that happens will they pay heed to what your spoken word is- for the simple reason that- they now know that you know them well enough to guide, counsel or advise them as the case may be! Only once you have arrived at a level of desirable competence of being able to practise directed and active listening, will you be able to deploy your abilities to train your mind to pick up the non-verbal cues with increasing finesse and accuracy! What all of this eventually will do is – the person speaking to you will have to use even fewer words than earlier and you too will possibly have nothing to say- just perhaps act based on what was told to you, because you would have also learnt to listen to, what was not said and your action is the spoken word that the other person actually waits to listen into!
I will leave you here, with these thoughts for now and yes, listen,listen and listen so that you you to speak less and when you do- you will be sure it matters!
Ciao for now, will be back soon with another one! Stay safe and stay wise! Nothing more to say for now, hope you listened to yourself as you read this!