13 Oct 2012

Please... Just Listen!

During days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, the then President of USA and master at managing people, called upon an old friend from Illinois. Lincoln invited the friend to the White House, stating he wanted to discuss some problems with him. When the friend arrived, Lincoln spoke to him for hours about the proclamation of freeing slaves. He went over arguments, pros and cons and read articles aloud. After talking for hours, he shook the neighbour’s hand and sent him back without asking for his opinion. “He seemed freer after the talk”, the friend said. Lincoln didn’t want advice; he merely wanted a friendly listener whom he could unload on.

Not just Abraham Lincoln, all of us want someone who listens; not just hears, but listens. Hearing is generally without interest in what the person says. We could be preparing a response, waiting for an opportunity to intercept the speaker, start off with our own views or be distracted by something happening in our lives we consider more important. Listening, on the other hand, involves paying attention to the speaker (could be a friend, colleague, family member, orator), understanding, acknowledging and responding accordingly, if needed.

Yes, we all want to respond, to advise... we love using the phrases “I Think”, “According to me”, “I would suggest”... The fact, however, is that the other person doesn’t want to know what we think. Every person speaking to us is not asking for advice. Often the speaker is merely looking for someone to listen to her/him quietly. S/he merely wants to feel lighter, respected, comfortable. Should we impose our thoughts upon someone? Do we want to bore people with talks about how we would have handled things? Are we pompous brats so full of ourselves that no one else is significant enough?
"Listen to me!"

Dale Carnegie, author of the book ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’ has written: If you want to know how to make people shun you and laugh at you behind your back and even despise you, here is the recipe: Never listen to anyone for long. If you have an idea while the other person is talking, don't wait for him or her to finish: bust right in and interrupt in the middle of a sentence. Do you know people like that? I do, unfortunately; and the astonishing part of it is that some of them are prominent.

There indeed are many people of the self-obsessed kind in the world; probably more than 90% of the population. Would you like to speak to someone with such traits? If no, doesn’t it make sense that you should first be a good listener to expect similar treatment? If yes, try these:
  • Stop whatever you’re doing. People don’t appreciate speaking to someone who’s doing something alongside; the listener seems disinterested. And it’s rude.
  • Quit suggesting what you would’ve done. Avoid even thinking “Here’s what I think...” Quit thinking that you know what’s best for the person, because you don’t! Stop believing that your way is the best way of solving a problem.
  • Lean forward and pay attention. Keep quiet. Let your mind open up to what the person is saying. Remember, the person wants you to listen. It is her time to speak.
  • Absorb what the person says. Understand where s/he is coming from. Accept the fact that the person thinks different and is in a different situation. If all of us were the same, the world would be a boring and dull place.
Listening to people broadens our horizons. We understand mentalities, psychologies, perspectives and mindsets. We can predict the person’s behaviour to an extent, leading to healthier relationships. Insights in their lives and thoughts build stronger bonds between us. Plus, since we’ve paid attention and helped someone unburden themselves, we win another friend; a friend who will mostly be there when we need one.

Open you mind, not your mouth. The former almost never gets you in trouble.
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