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Have you ever spoken to someone new in an event or a meeting and before the conversation is over, you already forget his or her name? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. It is not because we have poor memory as human being, instead it is because we do not have a good listening capability. In today’s world, people travel around the world and access communication online. This makes listening ever more difficult. In the workplaces, employees coming from many different countries, ethnicity and races. Although most of them can speak English fluently, some might have different dialects and linguistic styles.
In many business school, we learned about the importance of leadership and any other soft skills. However, most of the time, people overlooked listening skills as part of leadership capabilities. Instead they put more emphasized on public speaking and managerial communication skills. Although we can argue that communication is not just one-sided conversation, most of the time business school emphasized the importance of message delivery and public speaking. Hence many business school graduated students missed the opportunity to learn the importance of listening.
In the beginning, we mostly focus with our own thoughts and priorities, hence mostly we just pretending to listen. Sometimes we nodded even though we do not really know what the speaker is talking about right now. This level of listening is called internal listening. Most of us are in this level. If you ever want to be a good leader, just being in this level is not enough. Leader should be able to other’s ideas and insight. Because listening is about accepting what others to offer. When we are able to focus more on the other person, even though we are still not concentrate fully to them, we might already be in the focused listening level. In this level, we might be seemed as a good listener from the outside, but we might not be able to get the nuance of the conversation, the message delivered from the speaker and the emotion conveyed during the whole conversation. The next level is called 360-listening level in which we are able to focus fully on what others saying and even better what they are not telling or sharing to us. In this level, one can grasp the surroundings easily. He or she can absorb any ideas and insight like a sponge. However, the next question will be, how can we ever improve our listening skills? Are there really any practical things that we can do to improve it?
Most people said that by looking people in the eye can keep our focus and we can listen to other much better. However, in certain geographical area such as Korea and Japan, mainly Asia, looking people directly in the eye can be seemed as an insult. Hence, we might need to balance this habit depend on where we are at the time or with whom we are trying to converse with.
We might have a busy schedule, especially if you are in the top management level in which you have to organize and manage many divisions or areas. However, by creating space in your day, even by an hour or two, instead of booking yourself out the entire day, might improve your concentration level. When we have time to ourselves, try to reflect on what you have done throughout the day. In that way, you might feel different nuances when you are talking to others.
Most people said that by asking questions, we can actively listen to others. However, this might not be the case. Because if we are just asking questions for the sake of asking questions, in the hope that we can listen and finally understand what other said, you might miss the point altogether. There are some key accepted assumptions regarding being a good listener. Firstly, we assumed a good listener as someone who are not talking when others are speaking. This assumption is mostly faulty because we never knew what people are thinking when they are not talking. We may think that they are listening to us, but it might be the other way around. They might be thinking about what they want to have for dinner. Secondly, we simply assume that by letting others knew that they are heard through verbal and facial expressions is enough to be called a good listener. We often heard people suggest us to nod and say some verbal agreement expressions to be a good listener. However, this might not be the case. If we consciously nod when we try to listen, we might not get the nuance and the emotion conveyed during the conversation.
So much of understanding on how to be a good listener, but the key point is whether one’s personality might affect the way he or she listen to others. Introversion and extroversion are both typical personalities which have been researched by many scientists all around the world. We even have these 16 unique personalities that might addressed and explained your whole personality as a human being. By understanding oneself, we might get to know how to improve ourselves in the future.
Personally, I knew that I am an introvert quite recently, only a couple of years ago. Before that, I did not know that such personalities even existed. Hence in early days of my life, I have been struggling with one weakness of socializing and speaking to others. In primary school, my teacher was afraid that I might be left behind since I never answered any questions she asked. This situation also made my parents worried so much that I was brought into a special school. Living this way, I realized early on that there was something different in me that I could not comprehend at that time. I always have a hard time to converse with new friends and colleagues. I am also terrified of speaking in public until I reached high school where I was literally forced to give presentation in front of the class. This adversity made me lack of confidence. I always thought that I had a flaw that I cannot change. However, sespite all the difficulties, I realized something more important. I realized that I had a gift in listening. Every time someone talked to me, I always can get the nuance, the emotion and the message that the speaker wanted to deliver. With that, I finally could make friends and create long term relationship. I was so popular as a good listener that my friend often came to me to talk about their problems. In one point, I almost decided to take psychology degree in college but later I changed my mind. Only later after I graduated, I found the term introversion and extroversion.
Introvert is not all about being shy and quiet. They process information differently. If they have been exposed for a long tiring social events, they need to take a break and be alone for a while. Just like a smartphone which needs a charging, an introvert also needs time to be by him or herself. On the other hand, extrovert process information in completely different fashion. They love to be in the middle of attention. They are energized every time they are in public or any social events. They do not need charging, they are already charged by the social gatherings and interactions.
Understanding what really is to be an extreme introvert, I can finally understand the reason why I struggle as a child in the past. And most importantly, I stopped thinking this introversion as a weakness on my end. Because, in the end of the day, I can socialize with people if I want to. Even more so, I can even do public speaking from time to time. I have been teaching children English and science in my religious community. However, any social gatherings and interactions still bother me quite a lot.
Sometimes, I worry that I might be boring. I often see people chat on their telephones and wonder how they can have so much to say. I hang with friends and listen to their long stories, but whenever I try to tell a story myself, it is so brief, to the point, and lacking in colorful detail. Sometimes, only silence follows my last words, and that was the most horrible thing to happen.
Perhaps that is why people do not really ask me many questions, or initiate conversation about what is going on with me. Often, they forget things I told them, the things that are important to me. Although, I try not to make a big deal out of it or assume what I have to say is important for them to hear, I still feel awful and ignored. I am not quick on the draw into a conversation, so even if I do have a thought to contribute, it often occurs to me after the discussion has moved on. And so, most of the time, I do a lot of listening, and talking about what interests other people. Even when people do ask questions, they might not be the ones I want to answer, not the topics I want to talk about. I rarely have control of conversations.
Of course, I don’t and won’t blame this on another people’s insensitivity. My philosophy of life is that we are all just doing the best we can. The people who talk over and through me do so not with malevolence, but for their own deeply human reasons. We are all flawed, we are all needy, we simply manifest these things differently.
To sum up, by understanding how your personality affect your daily life, what kind of strength and weaknesses do you have as a human being and how do you use those strengths and weaknesses to your advantages are key to your personal development. I might be a good listener as I am an introvert and I tend to listen more and talk less. On the other hand, if I were an extrovert, I might be a better public speaker. However, I realized that by assuming one personality as a de facto condition that cannot be changed, I have limited myself into a corner. Hence, I forced myself to learn how to do public speaking and use my listening skills to perform better.
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