Let us think about the process of listening. Whenever we listen to someone how our brain seems to work. We listen with the objective of speaking most of the times.
Most of the time the process appears to us as
Listen — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —Speak
While the reality may be something else.
Let’s imagine my friend starts to speak about politics. He names a famous personality Mr. A and starts explaining why he thinks he would win the coming elections. Even before he finishes I give him an opposite view. Then we get into an argument where both of us don’t stop speaking.
There could be many reasons the above situation could arise, I will refer here to the most common one.
Let’s try to break the entire phenomena of Listening to speaking into parts.
My friend starts speaking about Mr.A. His first sentence starts reaching in my ear.My brain starts linking it to something I already know.
By the time his second sentence reaches my ear, my brain has already formed an opinion against what he is speaking.
By the time of his third sentence, I have already stopped listening to him and I have a strong urge to contradict him and speak my point.
I interrupt him after his third sentence and start speaking of what I know, without gaining any additional information from the conversation and just reinforcing what I already knew in my brain. I don’t understand what the other person meant or said because I did not let him finish his own point.
Sometimes while listening to the other person, we are not only listening to the other person, but also judging or forming opinions before by the way he is dressed, the way he is speaking, or by the way his/her body language is changing.
So What Can We Do?
Now how can we improve this process of listening?
I try to do it by many methods. One can be meditating on this process yourself. Another is a technique from Prof Richard Feynman, “listen to the person from beginning to end and then think what he/she is saying is reasonable”. You will observe wise people on this Earth, know when to speak or not speak and whenever they answer, they answer after a pause.
In fact, all these techniques can be used in this way:
Listen to the person from beginning to the end, make a habit of taking a pause before speaking. During this pause, you can think on certain questions like do I have the adequate knowledge to respond? Is what the other person saying reasonable? Is the other person in anger?….etc……..Then responding/not as per situation will solve most of the problems. Even if you disagree, there will be situations where you should stop responding to a certain point.
Then the conversation flow will be something like this,
Pausing and Thinking,
Then finally reacting or speaking.
Though this habit of taking pause takes a long time to develop, it can do wonders over a long time. I will try to explain from an example.
Example (How Pausing and Thinking Could Have Helped Me)
Daniel Kahneman in his excellent book Thinking Fast and Slow mentions that we have two kinds of systems (imaginary) in all of us, System 1 which is automatic and System 2 which does all the reasoning and is slow. Many times system 1 overtakes system 2.
I will give an example of my system 1.
I ordered something from Amazon recently and used, pay on delivery for the first time. It is a service in which if you pay by cash and do not have change, the delivery boy updates the change in your Amazon account.
As I was using it for the first time, after few hours I started getting panicked as the change did not update in my Amazon account. I started getting weird thoughts regarding the delivery boy on how he took my money (My System 1 or automatic self). I immediately called Amazon and as it is one of the most customer oriented company it got into full action. An investigation was called out and I got my refund from the delivery boy next day.
Now when I came to know of the real problem I realized how foolish I was to not pause or think.
The real problem was that delivery boy had made some technical error and that’s why the payment wasn’t updated. While he was handling me the refund he said, “ You could have simply called me up, if you had not received your pay balance. As Amazon sends you the contact details of the delivery agent.”
I realized what he was saying was correct, if I had paused to think about the situation when balance did not update, I would have called him easily but as my thinking was clouded by my System 1, I could not look into the real situation and panicked. I had easily formed conclusions about the delivery boy and the situation.
As it is said, “ It is easy to be wise after the event”
Pausing and thinking before speaking really helps in life. Making it a habit can do wonders.
Another example of automatic self may be reading this article super fast and judging it too fast. (Pun intended)