Active listening. Empathizing. These are words that we hear and regularly use each day. But, do we just listen and yet not hear what is being said?
Our older grand daughter loves playing “teacher.” She stands in the middle of the room and makes us all sit around her in a circle. We are reminded to “be quiet and pay attention to what the teacher is saying.” Invariably, as the proceedings get underway the adults get distracted and side conversations start up. She wags her finger sternly, “Did you hear what the teacher just said to you?” and as we are usually unable to precisely repeat all that she had been saying, she fretfully pouts that we are not paying attention.
This is a simple lesson that one sees repeated often. For instance, think of a business or casual meeting that you may have attended. You will probably be able to recall someone surreptitiously checking emails. Another participant holds the smartphone under the table, frantically texting messages. Or, the ubiquitous note-taker who keeps nodding to show active engagement, but doodles vacuously. The speaker too is focused on her/his own voice and the painstakingly crafted presentation, but really does not notice or care whether anyone is in the least bit interested. Even the ones “listening” are really mentally preparing to jump in with their comments, even before the speaker has finished. Most participants want nothing better than to be able to hear their own voice and make an “impactful” statement that would help get them noticed.
Last weekend I spoke with a good friend E, who has been actively involved with a non-profit organization for over thirty years. Among his diverse responsibilities there, he introduces new volunteers to the concept of Active Listening and helps them to develop these skills. I was also trained by him when I volunteered at the centre over twenty years ago. We had not spoken to each other for several years and I had reached out to seek his counsel for a personal matter. Our conversation served to remind me of all the active listening attributes I had learnt from him. Very gently and effortlessly he kept our conversation focused on my issue at hand and the options available to me. This exchange between us helped to clear my head until I found a possible resolution. Not once did he “advise” me or “suggest” a solution based on his own past experiences.
Another act of Active Listening comes to mind. About six months ago I got a call at work. The caller introduced himself and said, “You might not remember me. We met at a Newcomer seminar that you had hosted in India, back in 2010 or 2011. I landed in Vancouver in 2012 and called you a few months later to seek guidance. After several months of trying hard, I was not getting any job offers or interview calls and was depressed. You were one of the few people who took my call and patiently listened. Just the fact that someone was willing to hear me out and could appreciate my state of mind when I had hit rock bottom and was most vulnerable, made a huge difference. It gave me hope. I regained my confidence. Soon after, I landed a job. But, this call is to tell you that today I have been offered the position of a Vice President in my organization. You are the first person I am calling to share this news and have not even spoken to my wife as yet. Thank you, thanks so much for being there for me.” He choked up, just as I could not hold back my emotions.
We are LinkedIn or in contact through FB, Twitter, WhatsApp or other channels every moment of each day, but are we truly able to connect? Authentic and meaningful connections come about when one listens with one’s heart.
It is not without reason that we have but one mouth and two ears.
“Har ik ne ik baat kahii, ko.ii na samjhaa dil kii baat”
[Everyone stated a matter of the heart, (but) no one understood the state of the heart] – Sufi Tabassum