Challenges and Benefits of Being a Good Listener
Stephen Covey, in his great book 7 Habits of Highly effective People explains the importance of true listening or “empahtic listening” as he calls it.
In fact, he considers listening as so important a skill that he has actually defined listening as one of the seven essential habits for excellence (“Seek first to Understand then to be Understood”).
1. Challenges to Being a Good Listener
Here are some of the challenges that lie in our way of being effective listeners-
No formal education in Listening
We humans communicate in four ways – reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Schools and colleges teach us to read and write. Even speaking is now a field of professional teaching. But the one skill that still remains untaught is “listening”. As a result, few people (who care about being a good listener) learn to really “listen”.
Listening requires Patience
Needless to say but listening requires patience on your part. And you will agree that patience is not achieved easily. But any good relation is worth the effort to be cultivating the required patience. ( Value of Patience )
Generalizing our own stories
Imagine I gave you a green goggle while I put on a red one. Now as we look around, you’ll find everything in a green shade while mine will appear reddish. We look at the same things and yet our opinions differ.
Is one of us wrong?
Not really. While we observe the same things, the lens through which we observe makes our picture different. This simple phenomenon also takes place in real life. We understand life from our own lens of beliefs and attitudes. Others do this too with their own set of beliefs and attitudes. So it is not much of a surprise when I tell you that our opinions on the same topics may have great diversity.
There isn’t a right or wrong. Just different perspectives like different lenses. But we forget this variety of perspectives as listeners and project our own stories in other people’s tales. Phrases like “I know what you feel” are common but not equally sincere. Most of the time, the listener has no real idea of what the other person is going through. Unless he is “really listening.”
2. Lack of Sincerity
This is probably the biggest block to being a good listener, the “lack of desire to listen”. We may have a diplomatic reason to listen (like you have to listen to your boss when he is speaking to you) but deep down you don’t really care. While the other person is deep into explanation, you may often be lost in your own world, wondering what you’ll have for dinner or how shabbily this person is dressed.
But just because something is tough does not mean it should be avoided. Quite the contrary actually. Anything that is reasonably tough to achieve usually has high value associated with it. If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, just pick up a challenge that everybody avoids. To relate to the topic of this post, you can start with becoming a good listener.
Benefits of Being a Good Listener
Here are some of the true benefits of being a good listener.
3. Listening builds Deep Trust
Imagine your most trustworthy friend. Will this person listen attentively whenever you have something important to say? Do you see the relation between deep trust and sincere listening skill?
As you cultivate the habit of listening sincerely, you invite people to open up. They can sense that you will not be jumping to conclusions based on superficial details. They also realize that you care enough about them to listen attentively. While building trust is a long term thing, it leads to great benefits like lifelong friendships and a promise of help in adverse situations.
Who does not want that?
4. Listening broadens your perspective
Let us go back to our goggle example. You were wearing a green shade goggle while I had a red one. And we agreed that it was possible to see the same things differently because of the different lenses. This also meant that your own perspective in life is not the complete truth. It is only a part of it. The way you understand life from the lens of your beliefs and thinking is only “one way” to look at life. Of course there are infinite other ways to look at life too.
To make things clear here’s another example.
If you grew up in India you’d know a lot about Indian culture and lifestyle. But while you may be well aware of what is feels to grow up in India, you would not know what it feels like to grow up in every other country of the world. Your childhood experience is “only one of many possible outcomes”.
Once you realize and accept how limited your own perception of life is, you can appreciate the diversity of opinions that others have. In a way, by gaining others experience you broaden your understanding of life. You find out what it feels like to grow up in Japan, China, USA etc.
And how do acquire the different perspectives of other people?
By being a good listener.
5. Being a Good Listener Strengthens your Patience
You cannot gain the ability to be a good listener in a day. This is not a quick fix. It is a quality that you need to develop with regular efforts over time. But as you gradually get better and better at listening, an automatic benefit is that you develop patience. Patience to let the other person express his feelings and thoughts honestly while you stand in a space of non judgement.
6. Being a Good Listener Makes you an Approachable Person
This is another side product of good listening skills. As you present yourself as a patient listener, people feel more naturally inclined to communicate with you. There are lots of people in this world that seriously wish to have at least a single friend who can “listen”. By being there for them, you give them the freedom to express their feelings. As Stephen Covey puts it, you give them psychological air and end their mental suffocation
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