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Listening: akin to care

This important life skill is a two-way street reports Chitra Jha

education Updated: Feb 02, 2011 10:18 IST
Chitra Jha

Most people think that listening is about sitting quietly and paying attention while the other person speaks. Actually, listening is a two-way street. It is a circular process. Active listening is a skill, and like any other skill, it gets better with practice.

Those who understand this learn to master the process of listening and employ the skill in all areas of communication to live happy, fulfilled lives.

We all carry filters via which ‘verbal’ information flows through us. These filters have been formed through our individual life experiences – culture, language, education, career etc. While a speaker’s words are delivered through his/her verbal filters, the listener hears the very same words through his/her own filters. This results in a miscommunication of sorts.

Of course, it is important to sit quietly and listen until the other person has finished speaking. However, that is not where the listening process ends.

This is where the listening process begins.
After hearing the speaker’s words, you process them and formulate your interpretation of them. Subsequently, it is critical to clarify what you ‘heard’ by expressing your interpretation in your words, and asking the speaker if that is what s/he meant. In response, the speaker would either acknowledge the accuracy of your interpretation or s/he will re-state the information. If s/he re-frames his/her words, the listening process re-starts. This cycle must continue until the speaker and the listener have achieved a common understanding of the matter at hand. It is only then that the listening process has been truly engaged.

If you fail to clarify your interpretation of the other person’s words, the listening process remains incomplete or breaks down. The resultant understanding of such an exchange is always based on assumptions and not on reality.

More often than not, the speaker has neither been fully heard nor understood. In a society where most of us are susceptible to this occurrence, is it any surprise that we live lives seeped in misunderstandings and misery?

The answer to living an empowered life lies in practising to listen actively, until it becomes a habit.

The author is a life-skills coach, time-line therapist, and new consciousness writer. Contact: chitrajhaa@