The Power of Listening - By Kola Ogunba

"H ey Jessica. It's nice to see you again. How have you been?"

Jessica was an amazing human being. She was as close to a perfect personification of energy, class and grace as there could be. During our undergraduate days, she always captured everyone’s imagination with her unique, endearing and charming traits of impressive articulation skills, energetic presentations and a consistent, disarming smile that melted hearts and won her countless admirers. It was rare to see grace, beauty, humility and endless happiness in a single person but Jessica was all that and more. It was therefore truly an honour to be friends with her.

“Hey Kola. Can you imagine what that useless cobbler Bayo just did to me?”

I was stunned to hear those words from Jessica. She always had a kind word for everyone she came across and never liked to focus on the ugly characteristics of anyone. It was therefore a major surprise to experience raw anger coming from the sweetest person I knew at the time.

“Oh! What did he do?”, I asked.

Almost as soon as I asked the question, I regretted it. This had absolutely nothing to do with Jessica, of course. In all honesty, I wasn’t as interested in her response as I should have been. I was trying to get some of my own issues sorted out and I was walking briskly to my Department to see one of my lecturers that had put out a message requesting me to see him urgently.

“I gave Bayo my shoes four weeks ago and the idiot simply refused to mend them! Four weeks o! I mean, who does that kind of nonsense! To make matters worse, I gave him some money to make me some special shoes but he also hasn’t done anything about it either! Now, I don’t even have any good shoes to wear and I have a major presentation coming up! I mean, I don’t even have the funds to buy another pair of shoes at the moment! This is a serious breach of an agreement and as much as it sounds ridiculous that I am ranting about two pairs of shoes, this is so frustrating…”

In spite of my feeling that a matter pertaining to shoes shouldn’t be such a big deal, I decided to temporarily suspend my own issues and listen to all Jessica had to say. I barely spoke a word but I put on my best acting behaviour to keep her engaged and talking, while I also trembled slightly as I half-processed the unspecified issues I was about to confront with my lecturer.

After a rant that lasted almost thirty minutes, Jessica said, “Kola, thank you!”

“Thank me! For what now?,” I asked, in surprise. “I haven’t done anything!”

“You’ve done a lot. You listened to all I had to say!”

As we parted ways, those words continued to ring in my head. It felt extremely kind of her to have complimented me for merely listening to what she had to say but it also made me realize I hadn’t just been passive even as I kept silent while she unleashed. While I never seriously considered listening to be an activity worth commending as Jessica ventilated her frustrations about the failings of an unreliable artisan, the realization of the tremendous power of listening hit me in a way that frankly changed me. I discovered there and then that it can be much more powerful to listen than to talk!

I am guessing that almost everyone reading this piece has had to endure a boring rant from a friend in the past. I must assure you, however, that by listening to a person’s rant, you have paid some valuable currency into the self-confidence bank of a friend, a spouse, a colleague, a classmate or even a stranger, and such a person’s ultimate completeness owes a lot to the seed of self-worth and confidence sown through your selfless, painstaking listenership.

Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of the foremost Christian preachers of our generation, attributed his amazing preaching abilities to, among other things, the confidence he gained at an early age from his mother’s consistent willingness to listen to all he had to say. He said that even when he had no meaningful thing to say, his mum left all she was doing and listened to him! Jakes said his personality was dignified by the silent acts of listening that his mother performed. For him, his talking was justified and enabled as there was an audience of one that continued to make his utterances meaningful, irrespective of how uncoordinated, unrefined or meaningless they might have sounded! Without realizing it, Mrs. Jakes was adorning and fortifying his son’s self-belief, consolidating the foundations of his son’s self-esteem and molding a master articulator out of his darling son as young T.D. Jakes slowly but surely developed his conveyor-belt of thoughts and systematically developed a beautiful thought process that, like a person being lovingly prodded to learn to drive a car, continued to get better with practice until his articulation style and substance became irresistible to audiences all over the world!

The world is filled with voices that are often unheard as a cacophony of sounds from multiple discharge points violate the silence without gaining root anywhere. Too often, we talk at one another instead of talking to one another because we are keen to speak but not particularly interested in listening. Also, it is common for people to hear you without actually listening to you! Listening transcends carefully orchestrated silence but silence can be the first step to achieving the objectives of listening. The natural instinct when our message is to be urgently passed across is for us to scream and demand that others listen. However, you cannot command people to listen to you without deserving to be listened to first! For all we want to say to be heard, perhaps it is a good idea to first listen to others. After all, the natural principle of actions begetting similar actions means that for us to be heard, we might have to pay the first price and hear others first!

There is also post-listening activity that confirms listening. I want to be sure you listened to me yesterday by your actions today! Beyond the theatrics of “showy listening,” powerful forces of validation, activation and cementing of bonds and friendships are generated by the words and works that succeed listening. It also shows love and respect for my person and empathy for my travails that you take actions to make me feel better! There are few experiences that feel as reassuring, invigorating and uplifting as problem-solving actions that are consequences of listening. But it all starts with listening!

Listening might appear underappreciated or unseen as it hovers in the anonymity of silence. Perhaps you may feel that there is a lack of “tangibleness” or immediacy to the outcomes of listening. Perhaps it all looks like a waste of time. However, if you pause to imagine being ignored at all times, you will realize that you may not have survived till this point if all you had said before now was not listened to. Indeed, all the people we have met have contributed strands of confidence to our overall persona by simply enabling us to achieve our objectives using, among other tools, the potent tool of listening. We therefore have responsibilities to enable others as the baton of “dignification” through listening is passed on to all those associated with us.

Many needless conflicts and problems continue to exist in our marital, professional, religious, political, cultural, and general social lives partly because a sense of belonging is lost or adversely affected as a result of impositions or suppositions without a conscious, deliberate and concerted set of efforts to listen to alternative points of view or perspectives of others. Sometimes, it is necessary to digress to progress! Sometimes, the miracle we seek is not some extraneous wand that comes into our worlds from outside to solve our problems but some introspection to discover ways we can improve ourselves to accommodate other people’s ways of doing things. Assumption is often correctly said to be the lowest level of intelligence and assumption usually thrives on the altar of unwillingness to listen to what others have to say.

While we polish our articulation skills in different aspects of our lives to engage the world and drive home our messages for us to be celebrated by the different entities we interact with, it is high time we polished our listening skills too! It is when we do these that we create an optimal feedforward-feedback dynamic that gets our messages fully refined through feedback and fully transmitted to the largest and best audiences possible.

What a great country we would have had if we genuinely listened to one another and took problem-solving actions based on the things we heard while listening!

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4 thoughts on “The Power of Listening”

  1. Even the Bible enjoined us to be apt to listening and slow to talking… this massage is for me. I hope to do better! Thanks for bring this on Akin. Thanks to Prof as well.

  2. Chidinma Nwaogwugwu

    Nice article. Active listening one of the best ways of depositing into the emotional bank of others.One of the core habit of a good leader.

  3. I literally can’t agree less, listening is a virtue!
    There are those times when the best way to say something is to say nothing at all !!!

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