As we increase in age, knowledge and experience so does our tendency to share what we know to others. This is good in the sense that the advice would benefit other people when they learn from what we know, from our mistakes and ultimately would give them a head start in their learning curve.
But to advise and to talk whenever we want to could bring one big disadvantage – we would listen less. And many people don’t realise that the first step of giving advice is actually to listen.
To listen and to observe would mean we prioritise understanding the situation and the needs before prescribing advice. Giving unsolicited advice could make some people feel patronised. Giving the wrong one is worse – at the very least it could create confusion, or even give rise to bigger problem if the wrong advice was followed.
What would you think of a doctor who straight away gives medical advice once you step in his office, before you even tell him what your problem is?
Once a trainer told me that the steps to effective coaching are:
Which makes sense. I was once assigned with a mentor by my company and my first so-called ‘mentoring session’ was half-an-hour of one-way non-stop talking by the mentor, and nothing much else.
The tendency to ‘forget to listen’ gets more prominent as one has a more superior social status over others: the boss over his workers, the teacher over his students, the head of family over the family members, the naqib over his usrah members, and so on. Many don’t realise the bigger our responsibilities are, the stronger the need to listen becomes.
And the body language plays a big role in the art of listening. We have seen people typing away at their computer or playing with their smartphones while you are talking to them. Not to mention that their eyes are not even looking at you. That should give you an indication where their minds are at that moment, and where you are in their mental priority list. The Prophet Muhammad (s) would turn his entire body (not just his face) to someone who was talking to him.
Listening is all the more important in parenting. Young children observe everything, and the attitude reflected by our body language would likely be imitated by them later in their life.
While the previous ways of parenting focus on prescriptive instructions and strict disciplining, the recent approach is more towards listening and engaging, hence the term ‘engaged parenting’. To address tantrums, more parents are moving away from using time-outs (which is akin to banishing the kids to a quiet place) to having time-ins, which is essentially discussing feelings in a reasonable manner.
So we are already good at talking, now let’s (re-)learn the art of listening. Refrain ourselves whenever we feel like talking, instead focus on understanding others. After all you can’t listen when you talk.