Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just listen, willya!

Communication is like gravity. It's all around you but you may not consciously notice it.
A nod to the person sitting across from you on the train; the smirk at the lady at the gym trying to lift weights that she shouldn't be lifting; a smile at the person in the elevator; a wave to the colleague at the other end of the hallway or a frown directed towards the person who is talking too loudly at the supermarket - are all ways of communicating.

I remember reading in one of our communication engineering books, that the process of communication requires a sender, a message and a recipient. Initiated when the sender transmits the message, the process is considered complete when the message has been received and understood as intended. From an engineering point of view this is implementable - checksums, handshake signals and what not.

But when it comes to people, this simple concept breaks down way too often. That is because unlike machines and computers, people come with variables like moods, cultural diversity, varying sense of humor, a sense of self-importance and, believe it or not, a varying understanding of communication itself.

We have absolutely no trouble playing the role of the sender and composing a message. It is the role of the recipient that is challenging for most. To be a good recipient/listener, one needs to dedicate the largest slice (I am not saying ALL of it) of one's attention to the message - words, body language, tone, etc. Only then one can understand the message as it was intended.

The most common hindrance to effective listening that I have come across is when the recipients think they are "listening" while in fact,  they are just waiting for their turn to talk. As soon as they've heard the first bit of the message, the largest slice of their attention gets busy formulating a response to what small part they've heard. They listen to the first bit, and then try to guess what the person was trying to say.

So everytime you hear somebody say "You heard what you wanted to hear!", this is what has happened. Somebody has trimmed/stretched/modified the message to fit their own thinking/reasoning capacity, ability and perception.

I bet you are nodding your head as you read this, because we all have at one time or another encountered such listeners. But, and here comes the kicker - we have been such listeners at times too! When we do not listen, we not only offend the sender of the message, but also jeopardize the chances of our own subsequent messages getting across.

So the next time you are talking to somebody, or responding to an email, don't just wait for your turn to talk. Let's Listen to what that person is saying.

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