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Listening: A Fine Art

Do we understand the meaning of listening? Each of us will claim yes, but do we really listen? Listening is one’s ability to hear and process the information received.

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close-up of hand cupped around listening ear

“Listening: A Fine Art” was written by Bhavna Yadav, SWE Global Ambassador for India.


People rarely listen. That leads to misunderstanding and conflict. It is so important that ‘Bhagvada Gita’ and Patanjali’s ‘Ashtanga yoga’ include it as a central discipline. Our mind, right from early days, should be dealt with gently and firmly so that it listens to us, concentrates, and becomes alert.

Do we understand the meaning of listening? Each of us will claim yes, but do we really listen? Listening is one’s ability to hear and process the information received.

Any communication is incomplete, if the participants are not giving an ear to truly listen. The very first rule of listening is to come with a CLEAN SLATE (i.e., no preoccupied notions), which requires your faith in the speaker.

Faith is belief pending enquiry. Faith does not require us to stop thinking. It allows us to listen with an open mind.

Not listening properly results in misinterpretation of what is said and often results in confusion, misunderstanding, and even conflict. The second important rule of listening is to stop your urge to speak unless the speaker is finished. This requires patience and interest.

“GOD has given us two ears and one mouth, and this shows the importance of listening.”

– Epictetus

We should listen most and speak when it’s necessary. Listening gives you the power to make good decisions. When listening to someone, one should not get distracted with any external or internal disturbance. Any task done with complete focus is destined to be successful, so too is listening.

Another important aspect of listening is to respond to what you’ve heard with relevant and effective questions. So, the third rule of listening is to ask questions to learn, and not to judge the speaker. The most famous scripture from India, ‘Bhagvada Gita,’ is the learning acquired by listening. All the delusions of Arjuna were washed away by listening to Krishna with a prepared mind and faith.

“If you aspire to be a good conversationist, be an attentive listener.  To be interesting, be interested.  Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering.  Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.”

– Dale Carnegie

We have landed ourselves in a scenario that we have almost forgotten how to listen, instead, we are just hearing. This has resulted in mandatory ‘listening training sessions’ for employees in various organizations.

In the modern world, improper listening has given birth to so many professions that are dependent on listening, e.g., psychologists, marriage and family therapists, judges, physicians, etc.

When you want to do all the talking and none of the listening, then the relationship dies.

Listening is of two types: active listening and passive listening. When we listen with all the intent and openness of mind, then it’s active listening. Listening with a closed mind and with prejudice is passive listening. Active listening is the key to successful career as well.

Self-check for better listening:

  • Try to avoid biases and approach listening with an open mind
  • Hold your urge to speak until the speaker is finished
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Avoid distractions like emails, texts, etc.
  • Don’t speak too much; focus on listening
  • Try to paraphrase the things you’ve heard; this makes the speaker confident that you are truly paying attention
  • Check the body language you use while listening; crossed arms or legs can show you’re disinterested or defensive
  • Don’t make assumptions; try to clarify things for better and clearer understanding

All of these steps, if followed, will eventually make the difference between simply hearing and truly listening.

When a person gets listened to, (s)he has a sense of respect and fulfillment. Finding an ear to listen is tough in today’s era of individualistic approach. Listening is a powerful art and we can make it flawless with practice.

About the Author:

Bhavna Yadav became a member of SWE in 2018 and she attended her first SWE Conference (WE Local in Bangalore, India). She is also enrolled as a SWE Global Ambassador and member of the Curriculum Committee for FY20. Bhavna Yadav is a Senior R&D engineer with Synopsys India Pvt. Ltd.


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