He was a good friend of mine, and his name was Joe. He was over twenty years older, but I loved being with him, and one day discovered why. He loved to listen, and it was a strange way I found out.

I was standing at a bus stop, when a girl who was acting in a play, I was directing made her way to me, “Hi Bob!” she said.

I groaned, “Hi!” I said, my mind on the local train at the Bandra station I had to catch. But Odette wasn’t going to let me go. She carried on with her conversation, and I carried on listening to the sound of my train reaching the platform and leaving without me. I had no idea that Joe was watching all this from his balcony.

It was later in the evening, Joe asked, “So what was it Odette wanted to tell you?”

I looked at him, blank faced and said, “I really don’t know!”

 “I guess your mind was on the 8.25 Fast?” and I nodded.

 “Bob,” he said, “Always remember you can’t concentrate on two things at a time. Either you should have told the girl you were in a hurry, or you should have mentally given up your train and decided to listen to Odette!”

And that was when I realized Joe knew well the art of listening! Which was:

Give undivided attention: It’s tempting to multi-task, like me concentrating on a girl and a train. But authentic listening is an act of concentrated focus. Put away the smartphone or the laptop and give the other person your complete attention, at least for the allocated time. In fact, for important meetings I put my phone on silent. Whether it is 15 min or 50 min, once I have agreed to the meeting, that person deserves my undivided time.

Be a trampoline: I’m sure you’ve seen kids jumping down and bouncing up on a trampoline? Good listening is about absorbing with intent what the other person is saying, but it doesn’t stop at that. It involves providing the speaker with a new perspective — a good listener is like a trampoline, always directing the energy of the conversation forward and upward.

Listen to listen and not respond: Sometimes, listening just becomes a reactive activity. We think of our response even while the person is talking! But listening is also about absorbing the feeling. Of feeling the emotion behind the words spoken. This kind of listening connects us to the speaker and provides meaning.

These are small steps, but even as I write them I can picture Joe, looking out from his balcony in Bandra or maybe from an angelic perch, since I’ve lost touch with him, and saying, “Forget the 8.25 Fast local Bob, just listen to Odette..!

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