Guest Column: The power of listening
Be attuned to the unsaid and the unspoken: There is the unsaid and “between the lines” communication that one has to learn to recognise and respond to
To quote best-selling author and activist Bryant McGill, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say”. Sometimes it’s heart-breaking to witness the superficiality that has become so embedded in our social (and non-social) conversations today. As is commonly felt now, even when we listen, it’s to be able to respond, not to understand. The purpose is lost then and there itself. So, it’s imperative we understand that the true aim of talking is forging connections to lead towards meaningful exchanges. And the best ground principle for that is active listening. Here are a few pointers:
Be attuned to the unsaid and the unspoken: There is the unsaid and “between the lines” communication that one has to learn to recognise and respond to. These are the covert parts of our conversations, always present, but not always understood by everyone. With an eye and ear (and heart) for the same we can become cognizant of these not-so-obvious communiques.
Ask (relevant) questions: It is okay if one doesn’t get the actual meaning of what the other is saying, or there are parts that aren’t making complete sense in the first go. Ask for clarification, ask for repetition, clear your doubts – this is the most crucial aspect of active listening that one is genuinely willing to get the complete picture while talking.
Body language, eye contact, body posture, smiles and/or frowns, gleam of the eyes et cetera provide ample cues to the real meaning that a person wants to convey. Just like it is the tone that is more important than even the words used. Here, however, one has to trust one’s intuition, there are no hard and fast rules. One learns with practice and experience.
Share your thoughts, verbalise your concerns for the other. If you don’t have anything new to add you can reframe what the person has shared into your own words… it conveys that you heard and you understood. This itself is highly worthwhile of an aim, that leads to healing, since the person feels encouraged to release pent up thoughts and emotions. Catharsis, by itself, is unfailingly helpful.
At times it is essential to confront people. For example, when someone is indulging in self-pity or blame-game. However do confront only sparingly as it can make the individual defensive and/or go into a self-imposed shell again. Judge the readiness of the person to accept cum receive the confrontation constructively before implementing it.
If you feel that opening up about your own struggle(s) and/or coping strategies can be helpful, then by all means, talk about them. Self-disclosure also aids in having the person have a more realistic (and consequently more inspiring) image of you. I always feel that we don’t have to look far to seek motivation. It’s found in everyday lives, and everyday heroes all around us. So let your good-self be that rousing person. Even if you feel you are facing similar challenges as those being shared, disclose that!
I recently came across a thought: “I still haven’t figured out how to keep my shower floor clean or make morning smoothies or respond to stress calmly. Same, same, same my friends tell me, a love note of sorts. Maybe the world doesn’t need us to cut down on carbs or make more money or waste less time. Maybe instead it needs us to reach those who feel alone in their messy homes or difficult relationships or unresolved issues. To impress less and connect more. To share one simple message: Same. Same, Same, same.”
Finally, it will always boil down to empathy. Being in their shoes. Understanding from their perspective. It speaks for itself.
It cannot be over exaggerated that we are given two ears and one mouth. Speak less, listen more. And when listening, truly, genuinely, listen. I would go as far as to say that the art of conversation is the art of active listening. Sometimes I am tempted to chip in needlessly during ongoing dialogue(s), to say something, to make my mark, but I remind myself that it’s useless to offer a lecture to the one who needs a hug.
(The writer is a Jagadhri-based freelance contributor.)