The Art of Listening
Senior Assistant Professor, Mrs. Deep Umamahesh, an M.A., M.Phil in English Language and Literature and a Trainer in Soft Skills, with more than 12 years of work experience, shares an article on ‘The Art of Listening’. She has contributed a short story for Sony TV’s ‘Aahat All India Short Story Contest’ and was given a Certificate of Excellence by the show organisers. Presently, she works on personality enhancement modules for students and women empowerment which focuses on under-privileged groups.
The views expressed below are solely mine and my years of observation of the human mind-reading. With this article, I intend to draw the attention of my readers on one the significant factors of an all-round personality which is proper listening skills.
It was the year 1994 that proved to be the turning point of my career as a teacher and a soft skills trainer. I was awaiting my appointment letter for the job of an air-hostess. As I had some days left for the arrival of the appointment letter, my eyes fell on an All India Essay Writing Contest to be conducted by the international magazine’ Competition Success Review’. I had never tried my hand in the field of essay writing, but something prompted me to participate.
After a few days, I was surprised to see my essay, winning the third place and it was also published in the magazine (October ‘94 issue). Soon followed a huge fan mail requesting me to train the people in the field of soft skills development. It was a Black Cat Commando from Gurgaon district who asked me to help the IAS aspirants with the basic art of self expression through listening. So I decided to drop the idea of flying and became a full-fledged teacher, a trainer who could help the younger generation to learn the soft skills and excel in their respective careers.
What are soft skills?
- They are the helpline numbers to boost one’s personality.
- They are like software packages – the results of various kinds of inner skills within the minds of the people.
- They are normally divided into four categories – Reading, Writing , Listening and Speaking.
- Reading and Speaking are widely popular as they require much of the vocal faculty of a person and less of deep concentration.
- Listening and Writing are the least preferred by the younger generation as they require a lot of concentration, patience and a great deal of thinking capacity.
(The above-mentioned 4th and the 5th points are based on my workshops and personality analysis tests done on my college students ranging from the under-graduates to the Researchers.)
What is Listening and How is it done?
Listening is a very important faculty in a human body as it helps every living being to take in a command given by an outer element. I had a very interesting student in one of my classes in college, who would just close his ears if he found anything irrelevant spoken by his friends. When asked, he said, “I want only the sensible things to go into my head and I always close my ears for anything that my mind does not intend to feed in.” This was indeed a rare case, but one need not try it to make the listening ability more powerful. The matter of relevance here is how to concentrate and make the listening faculty better. Some of the situations where our listening requires to be moderated are as follows:
Case 1: What happens to my listening capacity when someone keeps talking to me for a long time? (eg. Friends, teachers and other known people)
Case 1 Solution: It is true that when we listen for a long time to a friend or a teacher, we are likely to loose our concentration and our mind starts wavering towards other thoughts. It is even possible that your friends will be able to detect that you are not listening to them and they get offended. The former President of America, John F. Kennedy, faced the similar problem which even resulted in him losing a group of friends.
How to Improve your Listening Skills
Here are a few tips to improve your listening for a better communication:
a) As a friend addresses you with his/ her piece of long information, shift your focus of attention from one eye to the other and vice-versa. Continue this exercise and you will find that you are able to concentrate better.
b) Use correct body language while you speak to your friend. This helps in a better communication with more understanding. For example: Don’t make excessive use of facial expressions in order to prove a point and be cautious when you make use of your hand gestures. Too much use of the body language kills the purpose of communication.
Some examples of a good body language are less hand movements and more stress only on the tone, use of facial expressions accompanied with hand movements, and complete control over the other parts of the body. In other words, your hands must explain what your mouth utters. If you scratch your ear while speaking or listening or nod your head too many a times in the process, the communication process gets hampered and results in misrepresentation of ideas in a talk.
c) When you get up in the morning, take a few minutes to sit quietly on your bed. Close your eyes lightly and relax your body and concentrate on your breathing. When you are comfortable in your posture, just listen and concentrate on the noises that you hear outside your room. This exercise can be done for 5 to 10 minutes every morning. This helps in concentrating better in a class and listening to the teachers as they speak for a long time.
d) Never try to force your concentration on your listening ability . This may result in a negative and harmful Stress. Be gentle in your approach.
e) Finally, try to improve your listening by paying attention to a soothing sound.
The Results of these Techniques on my Three Groups of Students
At first, I tried these tests with the under-graduates as they are easy to handle, due to their complete ignorance of the art of the self-expression. At first, it was very difficult for me to tune them to my tests, as some of them said they were very scared when they sat silently and concentrated. However they gave me a positive feedback after their completion of the degree course that the tests really helped them to improve their concentration as they sat silently in the class, listening to the long hours of the lectures.
Secondly, I tried these tests with only the girl students and the results were beyond my expectation. Most of them came to me with much satisfaction on their faces as they said that they found it very interesting to listen to their friends and teachers.
The Post Graduates comprising MBA, MSc and MCA students came up with many interesting pieces of information after going through these tests. They told me that they not only improved their listening skills but in the process they also learnt the art of speaking better. As they now learnt to speak better, they also got better audience and received huge applause.
I was prompted to express my views on The Art Of Listening by the autobiography of Lee Iaccocca who had sadly expressed in his book that unfortunately we do not have any institution in the world for the improvement of our listening ability. Thus the idea of experimenting with our listening skills generated in my mind and I am happy that the process is helping me to help others in a better way of communication.
Some of my students are very well placed in their respective careers today and even when they write to me, they express their deep gratitude saying how the art of listening is actually helping them to tackle the corporate lifestyle where they face umpteen challenges almost every day. The situations that they have faced and tackled are (as told to me):
- Listening to their seniors with respect even if any idea of refute is expressed by the latter.
- Facing tense situations like rude behaviour of bosses and sarcastic remarks by colleagues patiently.
- Completing the assigned tasks properly, without creating confusion.
- Handling the 18 hour job schedule calmly and with patience without reacting to the lack of time for the recreation.
- Handling very stressful situations like failure in love or maintaining the family values on one side and the urban corporate mindset on the other, with good deal of patience and understanding.
We are living in a fast changing world and we do not have time to blame someone else for our incapabilities. What we have to learn is how we can think smart and improve our areas which need to be checked for a better performance in the field of self – expression.
If you liked the Art of Listening, you may also like to read, The Art of Speaking as well.