Lesson 76: Shut up and listen

Published 3:06 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.

Wilson Mizner

Over the years, I have interviewed several World War II veterans for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. Its a simple procedure: you sit down with a veteran, a microphone, and a video camera, and ask some open-ended questions. The typical result is an astonishing flow of stories and wisdom thats nothing short of inspirational.

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These amazing men and women have, to a large extent, kept their experiences to themselves for over sixty years. Theyre now in their eighties and nineties, and they realize that if they die with their stories untold, the world will be the worse for it. So theyre usually happy to have someone listen and record the interview for posterity. And I can assure you that the interviewer is deeply enriched by the experience.

Teenagers often complain that their parents dont listen; employees complain that their bosses dont listen; wives and husbands complain that their spouses dont listen; teachers and professors complain that students dont listen. Everybodys right, of course: were all so self-centered that we cant wait for everybody else to shut up so we can talk.

But everybody values a good listener much more than a good talker. Youve no doubt heard the comment, He talks a good game. Its never a compliment. We all know people who talk too much, and most of us avoid them. Think about ithave you ever complained about someone who listens too much?

Listening is more than just waiting politely for the other person to finish. It involves paying attention, absorbing the message, and then reflecting it back to the speaker. You do this by nodding and making appropriately timed comments of your own. Were not talking about anything brilliant, just Hmmm, or I see, or the ever-popular Mm-hmmm.

But good listening goes even further. You must be interested in the other persondont just act interested, be interested. How, you ask? Just decide to. Weve already established that you have complete control over your own conscious thoughtsso decide to be interested, and then listen accordingly. Youll probably learn something valuable.

God gave us two ears and one mouth; that proportion is just about right.

Excerpted from The Graduates Book of Practical Wisdom: 99 Lessons They Cant Teach in School by C. Andrew Millard, published by Morgan James Publishing, available in bookstores and online. &opy; 2008 by C. Andrew Millard; all rights reserved. For more information visit www.wisegraduate.com.