Why listening makes you a much better communicator

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a PR and Corporate Communications student at Seneca College. For our public speaking course, our zany professor assigned us a reading from our Public Speaking textbook on Listening. I know – sounds pretty damn boring. But honestly, it opened up my eyes to the benefits of listening and how to become better at the skill. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from the text – I think it is useful for all people, both within and outside professional life!

Image result for listeningThere is a clear difference between hearing and listening. How many lectures have we all been to, when, lulled by a fairly boring professor’s tangent, she looks at you in the eyes and asks, “What do you think?”

You may have been hearing what she had to say, but perhaps it was hard to truly listen.

Most people are shockingly bad listeners. Even when we try, we usually grasp only 50% of what we hear.

When discussing the best approaches to public speaking, many of us focus on the actual SPEAKING part. Which makes sense. But it is incredibly important that we also understand what it takes to be truly good listeners.

Why is it important to be a good listener?

People in leadership positions and people who are fantastic at what they do are all excellent listeners. Why? So much of what successful people do depends on absorbing information that they hear. They need to do so quickly and accurately.

In our field of communications, listening is more important than ever. If you have this skill, you will guarantee to stand out.

Listening is also important to us as speakers – if you don’t listen effectively, you will pass on your misunderstandings to others. This is not good – especially in this day and age, with misinformation, fake news and people with a vested interest in confusing the public, it’s important to keep your listening skills sharp.

Now, there are four kinds of listening: Appreciative Listening, Empathic Listening, Comprehensive Listening, and Critical listening

Appreciative listening: Listening for pleasure and enjoyment. For example, listening to comedy, music or a fun speech.

Empathic listening: listening to provide emotional support for the speaker, like how a psychiatrist does, or when we listen to a friend in need.

Comprehensive listening: listening to try and grasp the message of a speaker. Examples would be listening in class, or listening to directions from a friend.

Finally, critical listening – this would be when we are listening to accept or reject a message: like a sales pitch, or a speech from a political candidate.

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When it comes to public speaking, communications, or the workforce in general, the two types of listening that are the most important are critical listening and comprehensive listening. They’re both tied deeply to overall critical thinking. You have to use your minds, as well as your ears.

Let us start with the FOUR DON’TS of public speaking:

NUMBER ONE: Not concentrating enough. This is simple enough, of course. An obvious tip. But one that is very difficult to overcome at times. Part of this is based on something called the “spare brain time”. Basically, most people talk at about 120 to 150 words a minute. The rate at which the brain can process language is about 400 to 800 words a minute. That means there is a LOT of spare time between people’s words for us to get lost.

NUMBER TWO: Listening too hard. Yes, you heard right. Sometimes we listen way too hard, turning into human vacuums, sucking up every word as if each word is as equally important. In the process, we often miss the speaker’s main point and confusing the facts as well. This happens often, actually, especially when we care. Think about the time when a guy told you a reason he didn’t want to be with you for example. The main point there and the one to focus on is that you aren’t the right fit for him. But often, we all end up over listening, and as a result, overthinking the whole thing.

 

NUMBER THREE: Jumping to conclusions. I think we can all say we’ve been guilty of this. This can take many forms – sometimes, we are guilty of putting words into a speaker’s mouth. In fact, many of us have communication problems to the people we are closest to, because of this reason. We are so sure that we know what they mean, that we don’t listen to what they’re actually saying. Another form of jumping to conclusions is prematurely rejecting a speaker’s ideas as boring or misguided. This is a mistake – most everyone has something we can learn from, that could change the way we think.

 

NUMBER FOUR: Focusing on DELIVERY and personal appearance. This is also a common problem – we often judge people by how they look and speak rather than what they’re saying. We could focus on their dialect, their outfit or any number of things and get distracted. While this is common, it’s pretty unfair as well – not only to the speaker, but ourselves! What if we judged by appearance one of my most beloved heroes, Gandhi? We would’ve missed critical human lessons from an incredible, revolutionary man.

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Now, I would like to give you FOUR dos on how to become a better listener:

NUMBER ONE: Take Listening Seriously. Much like ANY skill, the first step towards improving your listening is to give it the seriousness it calls for. Chapter 3 in our textbooks, on page 54, has a self-evaluation checklist to see exactly how you could improve your skills. Try it out – once you know what your problems are, it’s easier to overcome them.

NUMBER TWO: Be an active listener. We’re often listening passively to our parents, our iPods, our Podcasts and our television sets… it’s a habit. But what will make us excellent speakers is ACTIVE listening, which is to give our undivided attention in a genuine way to speakers. We can do this by taking notes, suspending our judgements,  and being mindful in our listening.

NUMBER THREE: RESIST DISTRACTIONS: Let’s be real – in this world, we cannot eliminate physical and mental distractions. Whether that be construction work, or a classmate chewing and chomping on their gum loudly, there’s not much we can do to stop these distractions. What we CAN do is things like putting our phones away, sitting comfortably, reviewing mentally what the speaker has said to make sure we understand it.

NUMBER FOUR: LOOK PAST APPEARANCE/DELIVERY: Some of our best speakers, including Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Hawking, and as I mentioned before, Gandhi, are all people who did not have very impressive or cultivated appearances. If we had all judged them by this, imagine just how much poorer the world would be. Try not to let negative feelings about how someone looks distract you. Instead, focus on the message that people are conveying – if necessary, look behind the person at the wall!

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I want to leave you with something personal, something that has helped me become a better listener. Once, someone whom I admire read aloud the following quote by a beloved author of his, Oscar Wilde.

Wilde was a fabulous writer, and it sometimes takes a good listener to understand the message he wanted to put out there.

At first, I didn’t understand the quote. I frankly thought it was mumbo jumbo. The dear friend asked me to close my eyes while he read it to me. It amazed me how closing my eyes erased many of my distractions and allowed me to focus, and therefore understand.

“People say sometimes that Beauty is superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is visible, not the invisible.”

This taught me that improving my listening skills helped me gain a deeper better understanding of the world around me: I learned to check my assumptions, erase my distractions, and focus.

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Experience of a Hairy Girl

When I was about 10 years old, I got the distinct feeling that the way people-and more specifically, boys–looked at me had changed. Prior to that, the closest I’d gotten to any male attention was when my mother dressed me in a crop top and hot pants at 8 years old, and one of the neighbourhood boys (who were still my buddies) said I dress like a ‘bad girl.’

I was very confused at the time.

At 10, though, things changed. Boys were becoming less friendly and more mean, and both boys and girls were grouping together in little cliques. I felt left out for the first time in my life. Little did I know, this would be a common theme of my girlhood – my sensitivities and a certain ineptitude in social situations would be a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life, making me feel like an anxious lil loony toon.

No, at first, I was surprised. Why were people leaving me out? Why did I feel so bullied all of a sudden? Why was I getting cold whispers from the girls and evil guffaws from the lads?

Then, I moved to Canada. By this time, I have changed a lot physically. Once a cute little kid with dimples and curly hair, I changed into a hairy, bespectacled chipmunk with a very strange sense of style.

See:

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Yes, that is a pink frilly top with a weird emo choker. With beads.

But anyway. Coming to Canada was a game-changer. Once a slightly spoiled girl in a well off family, complete with daily maids and nannies, I was now hearing daily arguments between my parents. My parents never made me feel poor, and their story is incredible, but the difference was stark. My mom, once a stay-at-home wife and mother, now worked 7 days a week as a telemarketer. My dad juggled part time jobs.

Me? Well, I became a very unhappy, lonely, insecure little girl. With a full grown moustache and unibrow to top it all off. The bullying was pretty intense.

“You ugly monkey!”
“Shave your moustache!”
“You have really hairy arms.”
“Ewwww, I can see your nose hairs!”

were just a few comments I would hear on a daily basis. My crying and weird protesting just made things worse. (This is not when I learned that my reactions are of utmost importance, and that I need to keep myself together – that lesson has barely registered even recently.)

My mother wouldn’t let me thread or wax my eyebrows until I turned 16, so one day I took matters into my own hands and shaved my face. My mother was busy and tired and didn’t notice at first, but when she did notice, her gasp of shock and her subsequent look of pity and anger made me sick to my stomach. I begged her to let me wax and thread the offending areas, but she wouldn’t budge.

“It’s barely noticeable Shveta! If you start now, you will regret it, the hairs will get thicker. Just leave it to grow! And ignore the people who tease you.”

Sound advice, but I was an approval-seeking, anxious, unhappy little girl who had not a friend in the world and plenty of hairy-girl-haters. I used Veet next and was left with many burns.

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….

Many years later, I’ve blocked much of this out.

I’m speaking to a friend at a party at my house. We’ve drank about 4 shots each and have eased into the music of the night, feeling great. I’m feeling restless and inspired, enjoying the good vibes all around. The night’s gone well, with a ton of dancing and only a few hilarious mishaps.

Let’s name my friend Anuradha

Anuradha is the prettiest girl I know. I’ve known her for years. She slays my whole existence with simple beauty and daring style. She has an amazing figure that I fantasize about…having. haha. She inspires me so much, whether it be taking care of her whole family financially, or dealing with life so maturely. I’m proud to be a woman when I’m around her. She means a lot to me.

A few weeks ago, Anuradha said to me: “dude – I’m so grateful for how tough my parents raised me. They made me strong by holding me to intense standards.”

I reflected on that. It was true – Anuradha had always dealt with things in an inspiring way. She was the true definition of caring, empathetic, but didn’t give a hoot what people thought about her.

It struck me that she and I both shared the same Indian background and came to Canada at about the same age.

I asked her, “Did you feel bullied growing up?”

“Yeah, but who hasn’t?” she shrugged. “To be honest, I was teased pretty badly about how hairy I am, but that just made me stronger.”

She recounted how, many times, when boys teased her about her moustache, she threw it back at them, saying they were just jealous.

“How could they not be? I’m so f***king hairy, I used to measure the length of my hairs.”

I gasp. Mirth filled my body and tears filled my eyes as I almost died laughing. “Me too!” I said.

“Our land is fertile. By that I mean, our pores grow hair amazingly well.” she said, killing me further.

After several hairy girl confessions and jokes, I looked at her. I had never once found her less than absolutely gorgeous. I pictured her whole body being so hairy that things got caught in the strands.

I pictured that her body hair got all matted and gnarly. Did I think she was ugly?

After many more ridiculous jokes that made everyone around us uncomfortable, I felt a bit in awe. I knew the age old sayings and mantras about accepting oneself and ignoring everyone’s opinions, but I never felt strong enough to do it. The fact that Anuradha was able to do so with such ease showed me that she had the guts to withstand emotion and learn lessons during the hard times.

Instead of hiding in the sand, avoiding emotions, lashing out or trying to change to please everyone else, she stood strong. I can see this trait, this history of reacting this way to problems has shaped her into the beautiful woman she is today.

Since then, my friend’s radical self-acceptance has inspired me to judge myself less. And especially about the hairy part. I got good hair, brows, lashes due to these hairy ass genetics. It’s all good.

How do you write an honest, authentic, complete biography of yourself?

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A small foreword: I’ve been tasked to write an autobiography a lot, lately. I found that it’s rather difficult to write about yourself without sounding boring, self-obsessed or inauthentic. It’s important to me that any autobiography or description I write needs to be realistic, authentic and interesting. Here, I’ve written out a short autobiography that I hope accomplishes my goal.

I am an up-and-coming PR and communications professional. I was born in Chennai, India in March.  I lived in three countries before I moved to Canada with my family.

As it is often with immigrant children, things were difficult in elementary and high school. I was bullied by my peers and it was difficult to find my tribe. I spent many hours of recess and lunch reading my books and listening to music alone. This affected my mental health severely, as I was naturally a very outgoing child.

Then, I found musical theatre. This changed my life by improving my confidence and through meeting similarly-spirited peers. I made friends, earned good grades and was able to regain happiness and joy.

In 2010 I graduated from high school and started a business program at Ryerson University, majoring in marketing management.

The program was decent and taught me a lot, but paled in comparison to an experience I undertook in my third year: an exchange semester in Lille, France. The semester further bolstered my confidence, as it was the first time I lived independently. I was able to practice my French and enjoyed the experience overall.

Upon graduating, I found a job in a sales company. At first, the job seemed fantastic: in a very fancy building downtown, with a great pay and sophisticated colleagues. However, it turned out to be a toxic working environment where employment essentially bullied employees to make as much profit as possible with little regard to ethical considerations. After spending close to two years in the role and making a lot of money, I quit the job and started working at a nonprofit as a program assistant.

It was this role, which consisted of assisting six social workers with their elderly clients that made me realize I enjoy working in this sector. The role encompassed a lot of aspects of communications and internal relations, which I performed well in. I had always been interested in the public relations and communications space, and so decided to apply for Seneca’s Public Relations, Corporate Communications program. When I was offered the role, I was delighted to accept.

I am currently in the second semester of the program and enjoying it tremendously.  I hope to learn and achieve a lot more before the completion of the program. I live in Rouge Hill with my parents.