Most of us spend some time, at some stage, on improving or mastering the art of speaking so as to be able to get our message across to those who need to be reached or influenced. It could have been just before a school elocution contest or maybe much later before a campus interview, or while preparing for a speech to be delivered before a felicitation or some such special event. But in spite of this general attention that speaking receives, our communication continues to languish at a not so efficient level. Just look around or look back on recent events and one can see that the cost of misunderstanding and miscommunication is all too glaring – be it in the confines of the family or the school, or organization that one works for, or even the world at large.
It’s not very difficult to figure out why.
The more difficult part
While we learn to speak at an early age and spend considerable amount of time in learning, practicing and improving our speaking skills, what is totally neglected is the art of listening. This is because it is assumed that what is spoken and how it is spoken is all that is important and listening is something that can be taken for granted.
"I clearly told you what I thought about this matter, so can you say that you are not aware? Why the doubts? I was very clear!!"
"No but what you said was -"
"Don't tell me what I said - I know what I said."
Quite commonplace isn't it? That's because listening is never given its due importance. You often hear of great speakers; how often do you hear somebody say that x or y is a great listener?
All this is not surprising if we realize that listening is the more difficult part.
Speaking vs listening
How good are your speaking skills vis a vis listening skills
Theories on Listening
Theories on communication start off by explaining it to be a flow of messages from the sender to a receiver, the idea being that the message should be received exactly as it was sent by the sender. Obviously, the entire flow has to be efficient and it will not suffice if the sender alone does his job and conveys his message very efficiently, in a most impressive manner. It’s equally important that we have very good receivers – listeners, who can receive the message and understand it the way it was intended. But if we look around, we don’t see a whole lot of people working to improve their listening skills. In fact, far too many people are preoccupied with hearing their own voice and there are very few willing listeners.
In Dale Carnegie’s twentieth century classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” he stressed the importance of being a listener and listed it as one of the six ways to make people like you. Carl Rogers, a well-known and influential psychologist, highlighted the importance of listening in therapy. So the importance of listening can never be over-stressed. And yet, if enough attention is not being paid, one of the reasons could be that listening is difficult.
Improving our listening skills
To start with we need to figure out how good our listening skills are and whether there is any need for improvement. There is a very simple method of doing this. Ask a friend or partner to join you in a discussion and make it a point to repeat what the other person has just said. Find out whether what you said is exactly what the other person wanted to convey. If the other person is not fully satisfied, it would mean that there is scope for improvement. If you are almost there it would mean that you have pretty good listening skills and could profit from now and then repeating this exercise. But if the other person is completely satisfied, and you repeatedly get the same result then you have special reason to celebrate, because it would be an uncommon feat performed by a top-notch listener.
Good listening skills can pay off in almost all walks of life.
In families where members have good listening skills, the harmony would be evident even when differences are being sorted out. During negotiations, intransigence can give way to compromise and solutions if there is good listening by all the parties. During sales calls, you may come across desperate men in search of listeners. In such cases, instead of pounding them with your script, it may be a better idea to turn a patient listener and allow them a free run. The end result would be beneficial to both. The man would feel a deep sense of gratitude and feeling of being understood and may willingly buy what you would have struggled to sell, while you would gain insight and be in a better position to manage the client.
Its good to learn to speak better, but it is equally if not more important to speak a little less and listen better.