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For some years now, I’ve been practicing chanting, in the presence of a spiritual master, and with a group of fellow seekers, and gained many insights from this practice. Yet I was struck recently, by a deeply profound insight, so simple yet so powerful that it just blew me away. I learnt something that can help all of us, so I’m sharing it here.

I would chant, and was always conscious of the vague drone of the voices of others, but mostly, I could just hear myself. In a recent session, I just happened to fall silent, stopped chanting for a few minutes, and for the first time in years, I actually heard the others’ voices. And there was so much to learn from listening to them. I could hear the different intonations, how some people were loud and others were soft, and the distinct tones in the group.

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As my work involves leading and facilitating, it just occurred to me, that I, as a leader, if I have to truly listen to others, I have to stop speaking.

I know that a lot has already been written and said about the importance of listening, and how to be a good listener. As a matter of etiquette we know that we should stop speaking when we’re listening to someone, but I realized that ‘stopping speaking’ has to be done at two levels. Of course, we must actually stop the action of speaking, but even more importantly, we need to stop the clamour in our minds, actually shut it down.

Ask yourself, ‘do I really stop speaking mentally, when I’m listening to others?’  So often, we make a show of not speaking when another person is speaking, politely listening, but so much is going on in our minds. What’s going on? Our preconceived notions about the person and assumptions are talking, maybe even screaming!

I know that there are situations when a manager is listening to a team member, while preconceived opinions are talking in her head, ‘this guy is always late’, or ‘she always makes this mistake’. At this time, the listening is very superficial, and there is no chance for the manager to gain any real insights from the conversation.

When I decided to change things, I pushed myself, and said, ‘can you be silent inside?’ Now when I listened to my kids, I forced myself to be silent inside, and found a tremendous joy in just hearing what they were saying. In my training sessions, I started to listen to participants truly, shutting down the voice in my head that used to keep saying ‘what do I have to do next?’

My invitation to leaders is to try this simple yet profound practice. We believe that ‘listening expands the boundaries of your understanding’, but for that, you need to really listen. There is a lot to learn from every conversation, and if you’re truly quiet inside, you pick up the cues that help you learn. You can spot body language, eye contact, whether someone is fidgeting or restful. I found that I could spot things I hadn’t been noticing before and every conversation was a much richer experience.

To me, it’s a spiritual experience to actually listen to people.

As leaders and managers, when you’re meeting customers or team members, there may be a lot going on in your mind. You start an appraisal meeting, and you’re conscious that the company has given you certain directives, or you’re remembering the individual’s past records. But shut all that down, and listen to the individual, and the appraisal will go from being a painful formality to a profound experience for both of you.

In today’s uncertain and fast-changing world, leaders face challenges for which there are no standard answers. So we don’t have the answers in our own ‘database’, and we need to learn and derive solutions from others. To really learn from others, really listening when they speak is vital.

Let’s all try and become truly silent to gain the benefit of listening, to colleagues, or seniors, or customers, and very importantly, our family members. Life is just so much richer when you can absorb all they have to tell you, verbally and non-verbally.

I would love to know the opinions and experiences of readers. Did you try this, and what did you find? Do share your own, unique learning, I would love to hear from you.

By Vivek Yatnalkar