All of us have experienced a time, when our relationship with important people in our life has gone sour due to lack of communication – either we felt misunderstood, or they felt unheard. Effective communication plays a critical role in building successful relationships, as it is a two-way street; what is said must also be heard.
The art of listening consists of three elements:
- Input (what is being said)
- Process (listening to what is being said and reflecting upon it)
- Output (reaction: verbal or non-verbal)
Prophet Muhammad (sa) demonstrated the most effective communication skills. He was the perfect example of a good listener. Let us highlight some of his listening abilities:
He would turn his body completely towards the speaker
The Prophet (sa) would pay full attention to the person communicating with him. He would turn his head as well as his torso towards the speaker. Such a gesture sends a signal across to the speaker that what I am talking about is of value to the listener. He feels important and this creates a connection between the two, which in turn aids the communication process.
He would maintain eye contact
When conversing with a person of the same gender, maintaining eye contact is vital for effective communication. For the speaker to communicate effectively, he must feel that he is being heard. The act of turning towards the speaker alone does not serve the purpose, if the eyes are focused on something else. Such an attitude reflects the addressee’s disinterestedness in the conversation and lack of concentration on what is being said, which could hamper the communication between the two.
He would use positive body language
Body language is another important element of effective communication. Along with maintaining eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, and other body language demonstrate the involvement of a person in the conversation. A nod in agreement, a smile, or a hand movement sends positive non-verbal signals. The Prophet (sa) was the most smiling person humanity will ever know, and he was an extraordinary communicator.
He would listen patiently, without interrupting the speaker
This is an art that one needs to acquire to become a good listener. When the speech is interrupted, the speaker feels that his words do not have any worth for the listener, and this can put him off.
The Prophet (sa) would listen with patience, giving the speakers enough time to fully express themselves, without interrupting their speech. Once, the speaker would complete his statement, the Prophet (sa) would ask, if he had said what he wished to say and then respond. He did not interrupt the speaker, unless his speech involved falsehood, in which case he would either stop him or walk away.
When Utbah bin Rabiah came to the Prophet (sa) to negotiate with him on behalf of the Quraish, the Prophet (sa) patiently listened to him, even though he did not agree to what was being said. Once Utbah had stopped speaking, Prophet (sa) asked him: “Is this all that you intended to say?” Utbah replied in the affirmative, and this is when the Prophet (sa) gave his response. (Ibn Hisham)
Whether we agree or disagree, we must give the speaker a chance to express himself. Hafiz Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi said: “Never interrupt a talk, though you know it inside out.”
He would listen with empathy, without judging the speaker
The Prophet (sa) would patiently listen in a manner which reflected that he understood and believed in what was being said and felt what the speaker was experiencing. While doing so, he would refrain from passing any judgements or quick doses of advice. Such an attitude has a therapeutic effect upon the speaker. One feels loved, supported, and not judged.
Amr Ibn Al-As (rtam) reported that the Prophet (sa) used to give him special attention so as to make him feel that he loved him the most. (Bukhari)
Empathy is extensively used in the field of counselling. Empathy doesn’t mean that one has to agree with the other person; rather, it means that you understand their feelings and are able to recognize what they are experiencing.
This attitude requires compassion. It must be realized that people have different ways of perceiving the same situation. A sincere attempt has to be made to look through another person’s lens and understand what they attempting to communicate. When one listens to understand, the results are remarkable.
He would listen for advice, irrespective of gender, age, or belief
The Prophet (sa) would consult his wives and his companions to seek advice on important matters. Although he was the most guided man upon the earth, he still valued other people’s intellect and sought their advice. Thus, by listening to their advice, he would make them feel worthy and responsible. One such example is when he sought advice from his wife Umm Salamah (rtaf) at Hudaibiyah. (The Sealed Nectar)
Similarly, the companions would express their opinion, and he would always lend an ear. Age and experience did not hinder the process of listening. The Prophet (sa) patiently listened to what Ali (rtam) had to say about Aisha (rtaf), when his advice was sought in the episode of Ifk (slander), although the advice he received was harsh. (The Sealed Nectar)
He would listen to both sides, before passing judgements
It is recorded in Musnad Ahmad that the Prophet (sa) said: “Oh Ali, if two people come to ask you to judge between them, do not judge in favour of the first, until you hear the word of the second, in order that you may know how to judge.” Listening with wisdom is essential in order to arrive at a just conclusion.
He would ask questions
This is a brilliant way to show that you are paying attention. By asking questions related to what the speaker is talking about, the Prophet (sa) would convey the message that he was totally engrossed in the conversation and was taking interest in it.
Ibrahim Ibn Al-Junaid said: “A wise man said to his son: ‘Learn the art of listening as you learn the art of speaking. Listening well means maintaining eye contact, allowing the speaker to finish the speech, and restraining yourself from interrupting his speech.”