Learning to Listen

It may seem counter intuitive, but to become a good conversationalist, you have to first become a good listener. And what exactly is good listening?

Many years ago, when My father-in-law was visiting us, he said something remarkable. He said “I look forward to learning something new from every person I meet”. To my utter surprise, he added “I usually succeed”.

My father-in-law is a very intelligent man. Both academically and otherwise. He is by no means a lay person. For several years, he held roles in the senior management of SAIL in various parts of India.And if this man could learn something from everyone he met, I was sure I could too. But at that moment, i wasn’t listening very well.

My MBA trained mind immediately went into attack mode.

Blah. What rubbish. This is not possible.Maybe it is. Nah. You have to be a village idiot to learn something new everyday. But what if? Is it possible that we learn something from everyone? If it is, then what sort of an attitude should we carry to achieve this feat?

I mustered up enough courage to ask him the last question.

He continued “Just listen to what they have to say. Non-judgmentally, without analyzing the various pros and cons to come back with a clever reply, simply enjoy the present moment and listen”

This was fascinating. I realized that up until that moment, I listened to people to either gather some information or to analyze what was said and provide counter arguments. Sometimes, I would deliberately play devil’s advocate and try to punch holes in their theories.This stoked my ego and I felt cleverer.

Sometimes, the tiniest of pebbles, when dropped into a still pond can create massive ripples.This new idea and attitude washed over me and transformed my outlook on having conversations.

From that day on, I made it a point to listen completely to what people are saying. Although I have not been 100% successful in doing this in every situation,like at work, I’m glad to report that I have improved.

Sometimes, the best solution to the problem at hand is having someone listen to us. When we know that the person we are talking to will not judge us or our thoughts, we open up completely. And often, we end up solving our problems ourselves. But the conversation is deeply enriching and satisfying.

Have you every tried listening to someone completely? I urge you to try it.

First, focus on your breath to stop the mind chatter that is crowding the alleys of your brains. Our brains are always seeking to fill up any silence. To stop the chatter, take deep breaths through your nose and focus on the breath. Do diaphragmatic breathing to increase the oxygen intake and let it out slowly through the nostrils. This will help you focus on the present and concentrate on the conversation better.

Surprisingly, as your fame as a good listener spreads, people will seek you out to have deep, meaningful conversations.True story.

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