Literal Listening

Article in the Life Coach Section of the May 2015 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

H&Y - Page - May 2015 (2)

Many conventional books on communication talk about the importance of listening and techniques to listen more effectively. Some common ones that were typically discussed are:

  • Face the person
  • Make eye contact
  • Respond verbally
  • Respond non verbally
  • Paraphrase
  • Ask questions
  • Don’t try to provide solutions, etc.

The above techniques are quite useful to help someone listen better, but the real solutions to a person’s problems come by moving to the next level of listening. This is what I call Literal Listening. Literal Listening is about listening exactly to the choice of words that people use when they speak to you and taking them at face value.

I was recently coaching a senior corporate executive to overcome some of his work related challenges and be more effective while in office. One of his big challenges was that he wouldn’t end up getting to the most critical areas of work or tasks that would give him maximum results in the shortest possible time. So in my coaching conversation with him, these are exactly some things he said and how he said them to me:

  • “I come into office. One thing happens after another and by the time I try dealing with them, the day gets over”
  • “When I try to do what I most need to do, nothing seems to be in place”
  • “I never end up doing the most critical tasks”
  • “I see new assignments and deadlines coming towards me in an uncontrollable manner”

Statements like the above, made a few things crystal clear about his beliefs, mindset and feeling about work. If I was to cluster them, they would be:

First of all, he feels that what is happening at office is completely out of his control.

Secondly, he does not pilot himself through the activities of the day but sort of floats around from one task to another.

Thirdly, he sees the most critical tasks as ones that he needs to end up doing as a result of other circumstances rather than directing himself towards those tasks out of his own will.

Finally, he believes that new assignments and deadlines cannot be controlled by him.

This is a classic case of a person facing certain challenges in life that he cannot solve but tells you in a lucid manner what is happening inside his head and leaves you with useful clues for a workable solution.

What eventually helped this corporate executive was a series of coaching sessions that first of all helped him establish the fact that he is in control of his work and not the other way around. To help him internalise this idea and produce tangible results we started with gaining control over small tasks at work and then moved on to more complex ones. The next step was to start planning and prioritizing more effectively so that the most critical factors are addressed before anything else. Once again, starting with small areas of work and eventually being able to exercise prioritization over all areas of work in his span of control.

And coming to think of it, this whole transformation was possible by Literally Listening to what exactly he was saying at the start and how he was saying it, which opened doors to the actual problems underlying his challenges.

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