As it appeared in the Daily Nation on December 13th 2016
Why is it so hard to listen? Like many of us, I have interacted with persons that are not good listeners. Such conversations are usually not as fruitful as they should have been and end up taking too long. It is often frustrating. Over the years, I have learnt that every good conversation starts with active listening. It is crucial for both parties to be willing to listen. Unfortunately, many of us are not willing to listen. Many are quick to speak listening only with the intention to respond. Why do we take listening for granted?
Without listening, there is no communication or at its best, there is poor communication. Without listening, we focus more on ourselves and miss the opportunity to hear what the other person has to say. Without listening, we miss the other person’s point of view. This means without listening we cannot become good sales persons or good frontline staff, good parents or good managers. Are we missing opportunities because we fail to listen? Emma Thompson a renowned British actor, comedian and writer says, “Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone is not listening”. A family in this case could apply to any group of people.
Listening helps us to understand the other person. Take for example a customer. If we pay attention to what they are saying and seek to understand their need, we are likely to propose a solution that matches what they want. When a waiter does not listen to the order details, they often bring the wrong meal. We need to be intentional about listening, take time to listen; we should listen with the intention to understand what the other person is saying and how they feel.
Listening is not the same as keeping quiet. To be active listeners we need to engage the other person. We can do this through nodding our head, smiling or wearing the ideal expression and by asking and responding to questions. Listening helps us to connect with the other person. It helps us to build trust, to show that we care and it is a basic form of respect. When we actively listen, we build rapport with the other person. It is evident that we need to listen more. We can do this by being more receptive and attentive. Some people need to talk less and there are those who need to get off the bad habit of interrupting others. We need to allow others to go first. Our body language is a simple indicator of whether we are listening or just waiting to talk.
Without the willingness to listen to our children, parents, colleagues, customers and to everyone around us, our conversations become strained and ineffective. For the last 5 years, I have been intentional about becoming a better listener. I have found it rewarding. Doug Larson a columnist in Wisconsin once wrote, “Wisdom is the reward we get for a lifetime of listening when we would have preferred to talk”. May we be more intentional about listening just a little more.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy