Active Listening

-Commander VK Jaitly

We all know that Communication takes place only if there is a speaker and also there is a listener. Further, Communication is necessarily a Two-Way process that means communication is considered complete only when the listener or the receiver acknowledges that he/she has received the message, may be with just nodding of the head.

We also know that God has given us two ears to listen and one mouth to speak. That means that in our day today conversations we should be listening more and talking less. When we listen, we learn while when we speak, we only say what we know and therefore there is no value addition to our knowledge bank. So listening is a beneficial exercise for us while speaking is an energy consuming exercise.
So listening is one of the most important skills that we should try to improve upon. How well we listen has a major impact on our performance and effectiveness in our job. Good listening skills lead to good relationships with the people with whom we interact. Remember, all great leaders are great listeners.

While I am writing this article, I can listen to the conversation that is going on between my wife and my daughter as my wife is on speaker phone. But I am not paying any attention to that. My concentration is fully on writing this article. So I am not aware about the exact contents of their conversation though I know they are talking about my next offsite/outbound program at Ranthambore next month for a company where my daughter is expected to accompany me.

Yesterday, when I visited the corporate office of the same company and had a meeting for almost half an hour with their CEO, I listened to him with full concentration. I was trying to fully understand the issues their company is facing and their CEO wanted me to address those issues during the training sessions at the resort. I had reminded myself before the meeting itself and in fact constantly during the meeting too that my goal was to truly hear what the CEO was saying. In fact, I had set aside all other thoughts and was only concentrated on the message and I was also jotting some of the important points in my diary. My mobile phone was not in silent mode but switched off as it gives some sort of vibration even in silent mode and that does distract the attention. In between, I was asking some questions, reflecting on what the CEO was trying to convey, and I even paraphrased in my own words to ensure that I fully comprehended the message. This is what we call: Active Listening.

For the first 20 minutes, it was the CEO who did 95% of the talking. I was only asking some probing questions to clear my doubts. Then the CEO wanted me to explain him about the proposed venue, mode of transport and my past experience of conducting such offsites. But my active listening for initial 20 minutes had set the stage. Now the CEO was fully in receptive mode and ready to receive whatever I wanted to communicate. In essence, it was a great session of two way communication. I must appreciate that the CEO of the company was also a great listener when I was giving him briefing about the offsite. He too asked me some very pertinent questions about the logistic arrangements at the resort and during our travel to the resort from Delhi.

So it was a session of active listening from both sides. Remember, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from. By becoming a better listener, we can improve our productivity, as well as our ability to influence, persuade and even negotiate. Through active listening, we can avoid conflict, misunderstandings and even earn the respect and unflinching support of our juniors.

In active listening we make a conscious effort to hear not only the words but try to genuinely understand the total message from other person. That includes even looking into the eyes of the other person but not staring at all. We also watch his/her body movement. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by a cursory glance on WhatsApp message or by receiving a phone call in between. In fact, if the TV or some back ground music is on, switch it off and close the door to avoid any intrusion. We can’t afford to lose focus on what the other person is saying while engaged in active listening. And most important is that we should listen with an open mind.

Suppose a highly aggrieved and agitated employee of yours comes to you with a bundle of complaints, here active listening can do wonders. Just give a patient hearing nay active listening to the other person. He/She should know that you are listening with full attention to what he or she is saying. Intermittent acknowledgement can be something as simple as just the nodding of your head or a simple “Oh, yes or huh.” You got to give the impression that you have understood his/her problem by paraphrasing what has been conveyed to you. It is not important whether you agree with the other person or not. This process of active listening alone will calm him/her down and he/she will be happy that you have taken all the pains to listen to the problem fully. In fact, you should encourage the speaker to continue speaking, so that you get the complete information that will enable you to take corrective action. This process of active listening alone will solve 50% of the gravity of the problem.
You don’t have to give your verdict immediately. However, if the solution to the problem lies within your powers and you are 100% convinced about the viability of the corrective action that will solve the problem, just do it. But if you feel that the issue needs to be discussed with a few more colleagues or seniors, just tell the person that his/her problem has been fully understood and action will be taken at the earliest with full diligence.

You must have seen a video going viral on the social media of a Border Security Force (BSF) soldier Tej Bahadur Yadav complaining about the food being served. This video has created an uproar in the highest circles of military, para military forces and even at the MOD and MHA levels. This is not the case of bad food but a case of failure of communication between the soldier and his immediate superiors. Had there been a session of active listening by the senior officers of the soldier, he would have continued to be a satisfied and disciplined soldier with the assurance that his grievances will be looked into. People retaliate only when they feel that nobody is listening to them.