Active Listening! — Quotidian — 417

(Transcript of video originally posted on 9 Sep 2022)

We all have that friend, don’t we..? We will be talking to him. For a long while.. And then, something, suddenly will occur to us.. Is he even listening to me?! We would ask them. Hey, were you even listening? And then, they will immediately adopt the strategy of repeating the last-heard sentences and try to prove that they indeed were! They will parrot our sentences. Like a recorded tape. That is not listening! That is hearing! Says Simon Sinek. We have met him earlier too. He says, “Listening is an art! It is not involving just the ears. If you are able to repeat what you heard, it just means that your ears are working fine. That’s all! But there are many more organs involved in the art of listening! There has to be eye contact! Occasionally, your mouth should work and play the role of encouraging the speaker! You need to understand what was spoken, with the help of your brain! THAT is listening! They have even giving it a term! The LOST ART of Listening! That is what we are going to talk about today!

Namaste! Active Listening! They have called it a LOST ART! How do we get that back? How do we become a good listener? (Which, people say, is an important foundation to become a good communicator!) How do we LISTEN? How do we pay ATTENTION? Let’s collect some wisdom!

Many researchers have found out that there is a fundamental reason why we are not good listeners! For, .. our brain is much much much more powerful and hence faster than this speaking organ called the mouth. There is a person in front of you. Even if they do an amazing job of speaking, even if they are communicating something very very important, the words come out only at a specific rate. Not more than a hundred words a minute or so. But, our ability to process, our ability to process multiple things, “What’s that noise there?”, we are distracted, “What’s that bright light there?”, “What’s this strange sensation on my skin?”, everything is being processed simultaneously. So, frankly speaking, we can’t be blamed. We have to blame just our brains. For, this is how you think, while that is how they can speak. They call it the Tortoise — Hare Situation. Whenever something fast is happening, if we try and connect a patently slow thing with it, of course the fast-one will be distracted! If you remember the Hare and the Tortoise story, isn’t that what happened there too? Only because the Hare was perhaps BORED that the competition was nowhere to be seen, he went to sleep! Distracted! So, don’t be too hard on yourself!

Her name is Marilyn Vos Savant. She holds a record. The highest IQ score EVER, by anybody! She reached that score at the age 10. A score of 228! And, after that, she has attempted it multiple times too, and has consistently been rated the smartest person on the planet. 228! But, you know what? Researchers say, if you are smart, if you are creative, if you are imaginative, by nature, you may not be a great listener. For, to listen well, you shouldn’t allow the horse of your imagination gallop unbridled! You can’t dream on and on about other alternatives, other scenarios, all the time! You have to POUR YOURSELF into the act. Very creative, smart people, are not able to do that. There is another matter too. These introverts? The ones who don’t talk much? It is a myth that such people are great listeners! Not so! Just because they don’t talk much doesn’t mean they listen well. Research has shown. I am not saying it!

There is a book like this. You’re Not Listening! By Kate Murphy. What you’re missing, and why it matters. In this book, I encountered a very beautiful excerpt, and I wanted to share that with you. That excerpt says, “Listening is to be likened to an act of Meditation! Take any book about meditation, go to any guru, and they’d all say one thing. One very important thing. Distractions WILL happen. Don’t try to shoo them away. Don’t try to say that you won’t see them, you won’t listen to them, you won’t touch them, you won’t mind them.. It is impossible! It is impossible to control the Mind Monkey. You will waver! Give in to that temptation. And, after you given in, and after the distraction blows over, bring that monkey back in, focus again. Beginners in meditation almost always get this bit of advice only, again and again. They will never be told to JUST FOCUS on ONE THING. For, that is impossible! All they’d say is, you have to acknowledge that there is a distraction, treat it with respect, push it away once it clamours and gets that attention, push it away, focus back again. Keep coming back!” Kate Murphy says, this is exactly what you need to practice during listening too.

There’s another thing she shares — a quote by Stephen Covey. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. When will I get the mic? When will you stop talking so that I can… This is the mentality that we need to change — says Stephen Covey.

There is an amazing dancer — her name is Monica Bill Barnes. She is a presenter, she is a communicator. She is a communicator with her body! She has said something about the Art of Listening. Poetic. Highly relevant. She says, “Listening is a matter of you deciding you don’t need to worry what to say next! Take it in without worrying how you are going to react, what words you are going to use. THAT is the pinnacle of listening. That is what allows someone else’s opinions to temporarily take hold of your soul. Enter its every atom. BECOME YOU for a while. Allow your whole soul, your intellect, your ALL, to be impacted a bit,.. and then you can drive it away. But, allow it in. Allow it to get past your border defences. Stop obsessing and fearing about what you are going to say next! It requires a lot of trust. The speaker has to trust the listener. The listener has to trust the speaker.”

I saw this famous book. It was called “Listen like you mean it” by Ximena Vengoechea. She talks about eleven different types of listeners! Eleven categories! Let us look at each of them, quickly. Decide for yourselves, what type YOU are!

Category Number One. This guy is The Explainer. You talk about any situation, “Oh, is that so, did your boss shout at you, are you at risk of losing your job, you know why, you must have done this, he must have felt like that, of course that is why this is happening, let us analyse, let us draw a blueprint, let us put an action plan, and this is why that is happening, do you remember that? do you remember that dotted line from there? And that other incident that happened the other day at office?” He is The Explainer. A rational, scientific explanation for everything. The problem is, we don’t want explanations sometimes. We don’t want everything broken down and analysed as a sequence of events! The speaker might think, “I don’t want to listen to that lecture from you!” Sometimes! So, The Explainer is a good role, but careful, don’t over-explain!

The Second Role is The Validator. What does HE do? “Oh, you’ve lost your job? I understand. I completely do. That guy is ALWAYS like that. I knew something like this would happen. Every person who comes from that town? They are ALL the same. They behave just like this. Anybody who passes out of that college with that degree, they act as if…” They validate. They resonate. They take your side. They become a cheerleader. The problem is, .. yes, there are benefits. You will feel, “Oh, wow, I have company. Somebody understands”. But the problem is, it will boost your ego. You may have lost your job because of a mistake you made, but you may still end up thinking you are the best employee ever, and you can commit NO MISTAKES! So, The Validator, Type Number Two.

Type Number Three is The Identifier. The Identifier.. “Oh, you’ve lost your job? Oh… Guess what happened? Last time? Just two years ago, man. I went through the same thing. And, you know what happened? The boss called me. He sent me a mail. He said, I hadn’t done…” You take over. Yes, you identified with that person. You said, “I am here to commiserate!” But, you took over. And the game changed to YOU being the victim. You started reliving YOUR PAST. The other guy is feeling “Hey, I am crying here. Look at me. Give me attention!” So, The Identifier is useful, but sometimes, the person who started the conversation, will get the feeling, “Hey, Is it always about you? Is the whole world spinning around you perhaps? I exist too, man!” That would be a problem!

The next type is The Problem Solver. I am sure you all can relate to this guy. He is the Problem Solver. The Problem Solver always look at any conversation as a situation. A problem waiting for a solution. An action plan. An implementation. “Oh, you’ve lost your job? Hmm.. Okay, that’s alright. Come on now. Let us create a profile in Tell me about your… Have you updated your resume? Okay, bring your resume… What is this.. Let us change it..” Biased towards action. But, there is a problem there too. Sometimes, there MAY BE no problem at all! It may just be a perception! Our Problem Solver is going to dish out six different solutions to a NON-EXISTENT problem! Sometimes, the Speaker just wants a Listener! Not a problem solver. So, be judicious about that!

This person is The Nurse. Who is a Nurse? My problems, my needs, my demands on time, my health, my need and desire for love and affection, I push all of those away, and say, “You are the center of my attention. I will do everything for you. I will go the extra mile. I will take your problems as mine. I am here to help you!” So, “Oh, you’ve lost your job? Hmm… (Calls mom…and says “Amma, I won’t be coming home tonight. I have to be there with him. The next two days, don’t expect me back at home….”) Hey, come on, I will take care of you. Do you want any money now?” He takes the problem. He becomes part of your.. the army that supports you. But, sometimes, particularly when trust hasn’t been established up front, it tips the balance… The speaker starts wondering, “Hey, I am already regretting every passing moment, angry at how the world is treating me. Now, by helping me so much, by doing so much good Karma, you are adding the burden of… oh my god, I have another person to pay back some day?…” Do you see the problem there? So, that balance shouldn’t tip too much. You give. You take. Probably give more than you take. But, don’t give your ALL. Don’t be The Nurse. He has to stand on his own legs. So, help him. But, don’t hold him aloft, above your head. Be the crutch. Not the bus!

This guy is pretty dangerous. He is called The Defuser. The Defuser… okay, everybody is kind and good-hearted of course, but The Defuser approaches the situation thus. Any problems, they try to make them disappear with probably levity or joking. “Oh, you’ve lost your job? Oh, that boss? That skinhead dimwit? Why are you even working with such goodfornothings? Now is your chance. Come on. Let us go! Remember that trip we had been planning for a long long time? To Goa? Hop in! Let’s go!” Joking, levity, pooh-poohing the problem away, suspending reality and the truth, the gravity of the situation, … all this may sound good. Make great scripts for movies.. but when you come back, after the hangover, the situation would only have gotten worse! Some Defusers work even more rashly! “Oh, you’ve lost your job? Give me your phone! Isn’t he the guy? Let me make a prank call to him. Hey, nincompoop! What sorta arrogant bullshit is this?” Do you understand what’s happening here? That’s not how you defuse a situation.

This guy is The Mediator. This guy thinks there are two sides for everything. He knows it. “Oh, you’ve lost your job? Oh, that boss? I don’t he would do that unprovoked… Did you do anything wrong? Shall I talk to him? There has to be another side to this. Why don’t we have an open conversation? What do you think? Did you screw up? Think hard.. I have experience with that person..” That would be the line of argument The Mediator would take. The Speaker would think, “I am already boiling here. And you are trying to play from the opposite side of the table? Just because you believe in some golden righteous rule, unwavering middle path? Are you being a friend here or a judge? But, that’s the role of the mediator! If you are a Mediator-kind of a listener, right when the other person is speaking, you’ll start thinking, “This has happened to this guy only because this guy did this thing like this”.

This person is The Empath. The person who showers empathy and smothers you with love and support. In fact, you may be keeping silent! Not wanting to tell anybody. “Why are you looking off today? Something wrong. What happened? Tell me, come on, come on, tell me. What? I hope you haven’t lost your job or something like that!?” They start feeding information, so that they can fish information. Because they sense, they are hypersensitive… But, even here, unless you have that bridge of trust between the two of you, you may be crossing the line, if you act as an Empath. Careful about that!

This guy, he is The Interrupter! Look at this picture.. Who’s talking, who’s listening? There seems to be no dialogue! Only intersecting monologues! Both are talking! Probably the lady is TRYING to say something, and the guy is FINISHING her sentences! “What? You’ve lost your job?” That guy is starting to respond, “That manager, he had given me a…” And The Interrupter interjects “That project, yes? I knew it!” Is this how you empathise with somebody who is telling about their worst time in life? By interrupting and trying to show your smartness and your ability to sense? Sometimes, there are people who listen by interrupting. I got your problem. I know it now. Come on. Let’s move on!

This guy, is The Interviewer. He is asking questions ALL THE TIME. “What? You’ve lost your job? When was this? What time did it happen? Which project was this? What dress were you wearing that day? Had that guy come too? Was this other guy there too?” You ask too many questions and you fragment the narrative that the other person is trying to get across to you. There seems to be a WORD to represent such questioners. The Askhole! An Askhole is a person who asks too many questions! They will suck the living daylights out of you just by shooting question after question at you! The Askhole! Don’t be the Askhole!

This guy, probably the last of the eleven, is The Daydreamer. Dreaming all the time. That lady there is shouting at the top of her voice. Belting out story after story. Listing issues. Crying that she lost her job. And, they are giving you some instructions, they are giving you some expectations. But, you have already tuned out. You are probably dreaming about… The speaker might have spilt just a word.. “I have lost my job. I just want to run away somewhere. Get away from it all.” That’s it. This guy has already booked tickets to Hawaii. Probably rented out an island, a boat, and probably planned for a dance there. That i s The Daydreamer. The creative, imaginative person. Eleven different kinds of people. Why did we even learn about them all? This understanding may help you to evaluate yourself. What kind of listener am I? What is my default? What do I typically end up doing? That will help. Secondly, when speaking, if you can identify this in your listener… “Oh, this person is becoming an interrupting listener, .. this person doesn’t mean ill. But, that’s the way they are..” To learn is to understand. To understand is to forgive! Useful again!

As a closing thought, this guy. I want to introduce him to you. His name is Julian Treasure. What a name! Julian TREASURE! We will be meeting him again, in a future Quotidian. But, he has spoken in two TED platforms. The first one is about “How to speak so that people want to listen”. But, a couple of years before that, he gave another TED Talk “How to listen better”. How to speak better, how to listen better. Look at the numbers! 34 million people want to speak so that others will listen. Only 4 million people want to listen better. This is the problem with this world, says Julian. Let more people practice the art of active listening! All the best. Hope you listened to this well, it has dragged on longer than usual, but there were eleven categories I had to cover. We will meet soon. Till then, thank you!



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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani


Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.