Seek to understand, then be understood. This is a powerful statement popularised by Dr Stephen Covey in his ground-breaking book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The profundity of this statement is evident when you view it in a group setting, as people are either talking or preparing to talk.
Rather than seeking to understand others, people are busy thinking of clever repartees or answers which will make them appear smart in front of others. Unfortunately, the human mind is not capable of multi-tasking, it can either engage in active listening or in preparing a reply, but not both at the same time.
As a result, they miss out on vital information that would be significantly useful to them to decide on a course of action. Another problem with this is that in the absence of sufficient data, the human mind has a tendency to add or delete information to close these gaps, based on its own biases and prejudices.
Just imagine you feel ill and go to a doctor, and as you are explaining your problem, the doctor appears distracted and meddles with his mobile phone. After a few minutes, he reaches out for his prescription pad and starts writing your medication, how would you feel? Would you accept his diagnosis? Remember talking is sharing, but listening is caring.
An automobile company was having a major setback. The labour unions and the management were disagreeing on practically everything, and with no solution in sight, a shutdown seemed inevitable. The managing director invited the leader for a one–to–one discussion. After about two hours the leader came out and told the agitating workers to go back to work. The workers asked him whether their demands had been accepted, and the leader said “No, nothing has been decided, but the Managing Director listened intently to every word I said, and he understands, and that makes all the difference.”
People don’t care how much you know, but they know how much you care. Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher had a splendid model of communication, which was called Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Ethos was the personal credibility of the speaker, Pathos was the relationship that he had with the audience and logos was the logic behind the discussion. The sequence is brilliant, as first you must establish credibility for acceptance, then you must build a good trusting relationship. It's only after these two are established that people will accept your logic. So the hallmark for strong interpersonal skills is trust and effective communication, both of which can be derived only through active listening.
Developing active listening:
The VAK model- This is the Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic process, you must watch keenly to the nonverbal communication (visual), listen meticulously to every word being said (auditory) and finally, you need to step into his shoes, tune in completely and experience what the speaker is feeling (kinaesthetic).
R A Nadesan is an executive coach, behavioural and soft skills trainer with a pan India presence.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org