Why no one listens to me

Summary: We hear so much about listening that it’s become boring. We don’t want to listen on listening. This is an attempt to change that.

Have you ever had a conversation with the suave, clear and confident (and generally loud) human that you listen to every bit of what he/she is saying? As he spoke I hope I would one day speak like that. I have met a number of these confident speakers but only a handful (think baby hands) have held my attention for long. Ironic as it may sound, what makes truly great speakers great has little to do with style and story.

There is just one enormously large huge big elephantine difference between speakers and great speakers and that is the ability to listen. I believed what made a great speaker great was how they spoke, the way they say things and how confident they looked. Although these are very essential traits to have they make up a very small portion of the pie. Think of it like this: Confidence, eye contact and all of other essentials make up various pillars of the building while what makes the foundation is one critical trait: LISTENING!

If there is one thing that has been repeatedly drilled into us from grade 1, it is this : listen. “Listen” must have been the word you heard most as a kid, perhaps just after “naughty”. And after pee and bed in my case. As we grew up, things changed. We were asked to speak up! And we assumed the age of listening is over. We thought, now it’s time people listened to us. We had arrived!

From parents to teachers, they all wanted you to “listen to them.” I would never hear, “Srinath, why don’t you patiently listen to what your friend has to say.” It’s funny how the teacher says “listen” when she is speaking and “quite” when that classmate of yours wants to talk to you. And do you remember what made you a “good” boy/girl? It was the ability to listen! Why let go of something that made us “good?” Perhaps, the single biggest advatage of being an introvert is that listening comes quite naturally. And, let’s face it: there is no other choice. Being the quite one in groups left me with the sweet task of just observing the conversation and what I saw was a stupendous inability to listen. During one lunch table conversation where I was only a part of the lunch table, almost every sentence had someone butting in to make their totally pointless point. I thought about what it takes to really listen. As much as I dislike advice and bullet points, here they are:

  1. Reading a book: Learning can happen through a number of ways. Perhaps the most underrated is one that happens just by listening to people. You cannot possibly interrupt the author of the book you are reading. Like that, resist the urge to interrupt the person speaking to you. Just like you do in a book where you read the whole sentence before going on to the next, wait for the person to finish the sentence. If you just see listening this way, you would have read a number of very interesting books and will meet some really wonderful authors.
  2. Three-second rule: This is a very simple idea. When a person finishes a sentence, wait for about 3 seconds before you start speaking. The advantage of doing this is two-fold. One, it will stop you from interrupting the other person as he begins his next sentence and two, the other person feels you are fully listening.
  3. Finger on your lips: Remember that irritating teacher? You don’t literally have to put your finger on your lips but this idea can help you actually practice the skill of listening. The next time you find yourself with a group, make sure all you do is just listen. Imagine the finger on your lips; you know the consequences if you remove it don’t you? Resist the urge to make your point whatever the conversation be – ridiculous or interesting. You will  occasionally be asked “why are you so quiet today?” and take that as a great compliment.

. Listening is a very hard skill:  so, let’s read those books, hold on for just 3 seconds and as my grade 1 teacher, Ms Audrey would say, “Childrens!! Fingers on the lips ya.”

Written in Aug 2015.

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