Bernard Baruch, a financier and statesman, once said this: “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
While popular tips for listening skills revolve around focusing on the speaker’s words, being a good listener involves much more than the content of the conversation itself! According to Peter Drucker, well-known educator and author, the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. To help you do just that, we’ve put together a few listening-related takeaways from some unconventional sources.
Learning from medicine: In medicine, listening to the body is key to understanding a patient. The stethoscope was invented for this very purpose – to listen to the body’s internal sounds for any abnormalities in its workings.
While you can’t use stethoscopes in your work meetings, you can listen to more than the speakers’ words! Their tone of voice and body language can speak volumes. A nervous person might stutter, for example, and someone affected by a cold room may speak with a quaver.
Noticing such unspoken signs, and subtly rectifying the issues will leave people appreciative of you. For instance, calling for a break when your team members are noticeably frustrated in a meeting shows consideration.
Learning from ancient wisdom: Classical Indian texts speak of Shravana, the ancient practice of listening. Shravana encourages people to empty their minds before interactions, and to enter conversations as a blank slate. This allows the listeners to imbibe and understand the speakers’ words, as well as give the speaker all of their attention.
Similar ideas are echoed in the practice of meditation, which can improve your ability to clear your mind. Its importance is backed by psychological research, which shows how mindful meditation can help you acknowledge your inner thoughts and feelings, and then let them go. A frequent tip in business circles is that people must let go of their biases before holding a conversation – another way of becoming a blank slate!
Focusing on the person you converse with is important, but focusing on yourself is just as necessary when trying to be a better listener.
Learning from culture: Each culture has some popularly accepted norms that guide interpersonal interactions. One such unique norm is Aizuchi, the Japanese conversational routine where a person interjects while the other is talking.
Common conversational advice urges listeners to stay silent and listen to the speaker without interrupting them. While this may show respect for the speaker, it does not necessarily show interest or help further the conversation.
Aizuchi refers to small, necessary interjections like “Exactly!” or “What, really? Tell me more!” which encourage the speaker and allow the listener to direct the conversation as well. The speaker may also open up more once they see that you are interested enough to actively engage with them.
Listening is a skill that takes time to master and improves with the right kind of practice. You can find wisdom that helps you in this direction, in the most unconventional places, hidden away in cultural nooks and crannies – as long as you listen for it closely.