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Jan. 18, 2017

Prabu David: The gift of listening

Jan. 18, 2017 (originally published Dec. 13, 2016)

Prabu David is the dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. His research emphasis is communication technology and health. His current research focuses on mobile media, which involves designing mobile apps for health outcomes and the study of multitasking.

When the ComArtSci communications team informed me that the theme of this year’s holiday greeting was Joy to the World, I gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Then when they asked me to explain how I had brought joy to the world, I had to scratch my head. I said I would get back to them.

For the last few days, I have been doing some soul searching to come up with an honest answer. Sure, I have done a few things here and there, but can I really say I have brought joy to anyone, let alone joy to the world?

As I began to create a list of activities, I was struck by how short it was. I had made some financial contributions, recognized the success of colleagues via social media and said some nice things in person or via email.

When I analyzed these activities closely, I was encouraged by the fact that most involved some form of communication. But I am embarrassed to admit that most of my actions were perfunctory and lacking in conviction. I am further humbled by the realization that my actions involved communication from me to others. There was very little of the complementary part of communication, listening actively to what others had to say.

After this exercise, I have come to realize that I speak more than I listen. I have been too focused on saying the right thing, at the right time, to the right person, in the right context, for the right effect or benefit. And in the hustle bustle of life, I have lost sight of the importance of listening carefully and empathically.

So instead of ordering gifts from Amazon, I am going to make an effort to reach out and listen. I am going to Skype, make calls and create new opportunities for listening. And the rest of the year, I plan to take at least one person a week to coffee or lunch to practice the fine art of active listening and conversation — just myself with another fellow human and without fiddling with my phone.

I have placed far too much importance on being heard than hearing the voice of others. It is about time to double down on listening. Listen carefully.

Reused with permission from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences