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|| आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः || Let nobel thoughts come to us from everywhere, from all the world || 1.89.1 Rigveda ||
Section : Youth

Managers and the Art of Listening
A simple parable is popular in Africa about why human beings have two ears but only one tongue: God has ordained this way so that we must listen twice as much as we speak.

By R. Krishnamurthy

In business or personal lives, active listeners accomplish better results.

A simple parable is popular in Africa about why human beings have two ears but only one tongue: God has ordained this way so that we must listen twice as much as we speak.

Active listening is a hard-to-practice art. We love our voice, but hardly tune in to others. Thought many are adept at non-stop speaking, few are effective listeners. In the best listening mode, a human mind focuses on a subject, seeking to assimilate what is heard as a neutral observer, but this is the hardest task for most individuals Active listening is a critical steps to develop objectivity in the path of acquiring viveka, or discrimination.

It is for this reasons that our ancient masters considered to be as important as adhyayanam (study). The Vedas declare that that a complementary exercise of both study and active listening are vital to gain proficiency in any subject.

Listeners are collaboration

Studies have shown that good listeners are generally genial, less inclined to develop strong likes and dislikes (raga dvesha bhava). They aregood team players and collaboration in any project skill as a leader.

Two management gurus from the Harvard University, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, had analyzed why leaders fail, based on a 360 degree feedback data on more than 450 executives from fortune 500 companies. There assessment published as Ten Fatal Flaws that Derail Leaders, is that the worst leaders do not collaborate, fail to develop others and lack interpersonal skills.

While the core of such leaders’ failing is lack of proper communication, management thinkers are unanimous that developing the art of listening is an integral aspect of good communication skills. Active listening can make critical difference in the performance of senior executives.

Active Listening

A classic example of active listening by a capable leader is unfolded in the Ramayana in the characters of Hanuman. When the army of monkey sent by Sugriva in search of Sita reached the sea shore and started debating the strategy to cross the ocean. Hanuman was only an active listener. He listened to the arguments, interpretations and some bravado talk, but scarcely gave away his mind, all the while building an internal resolution to accomplish the gigantic task after offering mental prayers to his mentor.

Listening, not talking, is considered a gifted role, and is more beloved, magnetic and more imaginative. A true listeners is more beloved, magnetic and more effective. He learns more and does more good.

Harry Levinson, a famous management consultant, wrote a book called ready, fire. Aim: Avoiding Management by impulse. The core message of the book is that only after considering a series of options, and not just the ones apparent in the heat of the moment, can a manager hope to make consistently decent decisions. Such consistency can be developed only with a deep practice of effective listening.

Four key Approaches

Active listening is based on four key elements.

A pre-requisite for listening is showing respect to the speaker. It should be based on the genuine understanding that the conversation partner may have a point useful to the listener in some manner.

In the Ramayana, again, there is an excellent description of the qualities of Rama at the beginning of the Ayodhya Kaand. One is Rama‘s ability to come out with innovative approaches in a consistent manner (‘pratibhanavaan’) and an innate respect for every human being.

In an organization a manager’s respect for a speaker should steam may have the know-how to develop a good solution to the issue on hand, and that good listener would simply draw out critical information and put it in a new light. This is a key role of senior executives to harness the power of ideas from those around, especially junior colleagues. Often colleagues remotely linked to the job description may showing respect the leader benefits from their collective potential.

Being respectful does not mean avoiding tough questions. Good listeners routinely ask them to uncover the information they need for making better decisions. The goal is to ensure free flow of information and ideas.

In the gurukul systems followed by ancient masters, student were trained to listen to the guru first, but never forbidden from asking questions. In fact, the teacher would be pleased with intelligent questions reflecting the student’s understanding of what has been taught. There are several examples of guru-shishya samvada in ancient listening, followed by an ardent dialogue.

Developed a Quiet Mind

Psychological studies show that active listening is possible only when the mind is quite and free from clutter. A mind free from ‘internal chat’ is at a fertile point to shed ego and listen without any prejudices.

Swami Vivekananda had famously said that real activity is combined with eternal calmness, the calmness which cannot be ruffled, the balance of mind which is never disturbed, whatever happens. According to him that is the best attitude for work.

One of the management mantras is to have one’s own variation on the 80/20 rule as it relates to listening. A guideline is that a conversation partner should be speaking 80 per cent of the time, while the listener speaks only 20 per cent of the time. Including the time utilized to pose questions.

The attitude to quietness develops once there is a desire to listen. The sankalpa to listen brings in its wake a desire to remain quiet and switch to an active listening mode.

Do not interrupt

Interruption of conversation reflective an impatient mind and is generally a signal to the ego to take over. There is always the temptation to interrupt a speaker to that the listener can tell the other person what the former considers as vitally important.

The best way handle this is to momentarily step back and ask internally whether the interruption is really necessary. Such internal questioning could reveal in a trice whether the interruption is born out of an ego trip, or a genuine desire to add value to the given situation.

There are countless instances of conversations with Sri Ramana Maharishi where the listeners, prompted by desire to interrupt to ask a clarification or a question, have found the answers themselves. Either the Maharshi gave the listeners came away with a feeling of having found answers for all their questions.

Pick up Non-verbal cues

Active listening is also picking up any non-verbal cues via body language that a speaker seeks to can de-code the message in business meeting, and comes away with a good assessment of the overall situation.

Listening thus becomes a comprehensive exercise in assimilating what is spoken, and what is conveyed through non-verbal medium.

The ultimate listening


The ultimate example in active listening is by Lord Siva to the meaning of the pranava mantra from his son, Kartikeya. The great Tamil classic, Kandhar Anubhuti, extols the respectful and rapt attention of the meaning of the scared syllable by his beloved son.

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