Can you afford not to listen?

It’s World Listening Day, an annual global event which focuses on understanding cultures and societies through listening.

To mark World Listening Day, we spoke to OTD business coach, Kiminari Azuma. 

Now in his seventh decade, Kiminari is on a mission to pass on the value and power of listening, to everyone he interacts with.

“Where communication is considered, society often focuses on speaking rather than listening.

“When I was in my 30s, I was full of energy, I loved talking about myself rather than listening to others. It wasn’t until I was in my 50s and learned to listen that I really grew up. I realised that I should have learnt how to listen when I was younger.” 

Based near Tokyo, Kiminari has been delivering training to Japanese business professionals for many years, particularly in sectors such as life sciences. 

Much of his success is based on active listening. It requires a coach to listen with all their senses – not only to the stories that are shared with them, but the way in which those stories are told. Yet such key skills aren’t universally shared. 

“When we meet a doctor in a hospital for example, we will take time to listen carefully to them. I have trained hundreds of managers and most of them are very talkative – when we are in an office environment, we talk far more than we listen.” 

Typically Kiminari’s audience comprises those in their 40s and 50s but occasionally he delivers to younger people, in their 20s too. 

And it’s here that he’s noticed a further decline in listening skills.

“In Japan, a younger audience is often very quiet in a training workshop but active on social media, where anyone can now express their opinions. 

“Through social networking, I can see what is happening around the world faster than through newspapers and on TV, and my perception of the world has changed dramatically.

“While this is a wonderful thing, I often see people expressing negative opinions and throwing violent words at each other without trying to understand the other person’s view.

“It creates social disruption, our younger generation learns the behaviour and they imitate. I don’t see people listening and learning from each other.” 

So how do we go about encouraging people of all ages to listen?

Kiminari is a huge advocate of Toastmasters, the nonprofit educational organisation that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of promoting communication and public speaking.

He believes the way that its members embrace social media offers an important lesson for all of us. 

“At Toastmasters, people freely express their opinions but are encouraged to listen before they do so. We don’t pass comments based on a surface level understanding.

“As a coach and career consultant, my style is based on empathetic listening. I want to pass on the power and value of listening to others and particularly the younger generation.”

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