“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say,” Bryant H. McGill once said.
There was this young executive who took a trip into a far away place to give a talk on better housing for the people in the area. The time came for him to speak. While a huge crowd had gathered outside the hall, only some ventured inside.
The man stepped to the door and invited them to come in. He assured them the admission was free. There was a lot of mumbling and whispering, but the speaker could not make out just why they were reluctant to enter.
Finally, he called a bright-looking fellow and asked what the trouble was. “Before they come in,” the fellow said, “they want to know how much you pay them for listening.”
“What!” the speaker exclaimed with great surprise. “I should pay them to hear me lecture?”
“Oh, sure thing!” the fellow said. “Anybody can talk, talk, talk, talk, but to listen long is so hard. Now, how much do you pay?”
Here’s another anecdote for you to ponder, as shared by Clifton Fadiman. Austrian-born American theatrical producer and director Jed Harris was so convinced that he was losing his hearing. So, decided to see a specialist who gave him a thorough check-up. The doctor pulled out a gold timepiece and asked, “Can you hear this ticking?”
Harris answered affirmatively. The specialist walked to the door and held up the watch again. “Now, can you hear it?” he asked.
Harris concentrated and answered, “Yes, I can hear it clearly.”
The doctor walked out of the door and into the next room and said, “Can you hear it now?” Harris again replied affirmatively.
The doctor went back to the room and told Harris bluntly: “Mr. Harris, there is nothing wrong with your hearing. You just don’t listen.”
Listening is defined as to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing. “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the one we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand,” American psychiatrist Karl A. Menninger pointed out.
Why is it too hard to listen? It may be because we have so many things to share that we don’t have time to listen to others. Or maybe because, we don’t understand what others are telling us.
“Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences,” Dr. Richard Carlson wrote in his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. “It’s being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.”
According to Dr. Carlson, the way we fail to listen is actually a symbol of how we live. “We often treat communication as if it were a race,” he explained. “It’s almost like our goal is to have no time gaps between the conclusion of the sentence of the person we are speaking with and the beginning of our own.”
This thought seems to jibe with what American motivational speaker Stephen R. Covey said. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand,” he said, “they listen with the intent to reply.”
Most people who become successful in life are those who listen. I got that from Bernard Baruch. His exact words were: “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the one who do more listening than talking.”
Now, are you listening? But how do we become a better listener? “Slowing down your responses and becoming a better listener aids you in becoming a more peaceful person,” Dr. Carlson wrote. “It takes pressure from you. If you think about it, you’ll notice that it takes an enormous amount of energy and it very stressful to be sitting at the edge of your seat trying to guess what the person in front of you (or on the telephone) is going to say so that you can fire back your response.
“But as you wait for the people you are communicating with to finish, as you simply listen more intently to what is being said, you’ll notice that the pressure you feel is off. You’ll immediately feel more relaxed, and so will the people you are talking to. They will feel safe in slowing down their own responses because they won’t feel in competition with you for ‘airtime.’”
Pulitzer-prize winning author Ernest Hemingway knew it. “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen,” he said.
Now, allow me to share another anecdote which came out in National Canvas Goods:
A group of applicants in a steamship office were waiting to be interviewed for a job as wireless operator. The room was filled with such a buzz of conversation that they paid no attention to the dots and dashes which began coming over the loudspeaker. Then in came a newcomer who sat down quietly by himself. Suddenly, he snapped to attention, and walked into the private office and came out smiling.
“Hey,” someone from the crowd called out, “how’d you get in ahead of us? We were here first.”
“One of you would have got the job,” he replied, “if you had listened to what the message from the loudspeaker.”
“What message,” they asked, surprised.
“Why, the code,” the stranger said. “It said: ‘The man I want must always be alert. The first man who gets this message and comes into my office will be placed on one of my ships as radio operator.”