Many years ago, my erstwhile company NIIT instituted a nationwide survey, to find out what is the main dissatisfier in its students across the nation. The research company interviewed students spread across the nation in all the centers of NIIT, the question pertained to student satisfaction and their grievance and grievance handling by various NIIT centers. The research company submitted its findings. To share the findings and strategy to improve its services to the students, NIIT called all the center-heads from across the nation. I was also called as I was center head at NIIT Faridabad, NIT Center.

Before showing us the findings of the survey. The MD Mr RS Pawar shared the questions that were put before the students, and a list of dissatisfiers that figured in the findings. We were asked to rank the dissatisfiers as per our perception based on the experience that we had at our respective centers. We gave our own ranking, as per our belief what students would think. Some rated machine rooms, some rated faculty, some counsellor, some infrastructure, some high fee. Then we were shown the findings of the research. Starting from lowest dissatisfier to highest. Most of the items chosen by us were there, but to our surprise, none of them was the top dissatisfier. Mr. Pawar, shared the last and top dissatisfier on the OHP. It had the image of an Ear, captioned as “They don’t listen.”  

Listening is not just hearing. Listening is an active process. But even active listening is not good enough. One should not just listen but should also appear to be listening to the person who is speaking, and listening with interest, giving proper attention. Particularly, when some one has some complaint or grievance. Listening with concern and compassion is important. Compassionate listening is not just active listening. Most people listen actively just to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak. They are filtering everything through their own paradigms. Compassionate listening needs paradigm shift. Where the focus is on the person who is speaking, focus is not on just words but also on the expression and feeling and emotions that are bundled with his words. We are programmed to listen to others through our own filters, our own autobiography from our own point of view, from our own perceptions and biases. Compassionate listening is not opinionated and biased listening, it is recording on a clean tape.

When another person speaks, we are usually “listening” at one of four levels. We may be ignoring another person, not really listening, at all. We may practice pretending. “Yeah”, “Right”, “I understand”, “Okay”. We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the conversation. Mothers often do this when they are listening to the constant chatter of their pre-school child. We may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said. But very few of us ever practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening, compassionate listening.

As I have already said, compassionate listening is not “active listening” or “reflective listening” which is more associated with the mechanical process of brain, but compassionate listening goes brain plus heart. Active or reflective listening is skill-based, responding-intent based whereas compassionate listening is soul-based, and understanding-intent-based. Compassionate listening is listening with an intent to understand. Compassionate listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel. It is the way professional psychoanalysts listen. They are trained to listen like this, they are trained to wipe their slates absolutely clean and listen to the person confiding in them. That is why when they respond after “listening” and advice the person it works, it heals.

Compassion is not sympathy, it is empathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement, a form of judgement. It somehow places the person expressing sympathy slightly above on the pedestal to the person speaking. Thus sympathy doesn’t connect. Sympathy gives solace to the sympathizer, he feels good, feeling he is concerned, and it is socially culturally morally fed into him that it is good to feel good by being sympathetic to people. Empathy is one level above. More you come down to the level of the person higher goes the connect. The compassionate listening or listening with empathy doesn’t mean that you agree to the statements, but it is that you fully, deeply, understand that person emotionally as well as intellectually.

Compassionate listening involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said. As per estimation by communication experts, only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30 per cent is represented by our sounds, and 60 percent by our body language. In compassionate listening you listen with your ears and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behaviour. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.

Compassionate listing is more effective and more powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own biases, opinions, and beliefs, and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives, and interpretation, you are dealing with the realty inside another person’s head and heart. You are listening to understand. You are focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.

We can transact in banks only when we have our accounts with them. We deposit and we withdraw, based on our relationship bank may give us some overdraft, but then they expect us to deposit the overdrawn money and maintain a handsome balance to continue giving the facility. Similarly, in our human relationships, we maintain emotional account, but the difference is that here both the people are bank and customer for each other. When a relationship starts, they open account with each other, A good word, an appreciation, a genuine praise, a support, a help, is a deposit in the account, and anything contrary to the above is a withdrawal. Compassionate listening is, in and of itself, a tremendous deposit in the emotional bank account. It is deeply therapeutic and healing because it gives a person “psychological air.” The psychological air, just like natural air makes the other person comfortable. He will be able to communicate, respond, and reciprocate only when he is comfortable.

Compassionate listening is not a strategy, it is a habit. It is an attitude. This attitude starts with a choice. This attitude starts with observing your communication. This attitude starts with letting your heart being on the watch, while listening to someone.  You can not act to be a compassionate listener, trust me it will show. You can only be a compassionate listener.   

Krishna Kant Bajpai

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