My oldest son is looking at colleges and majors these days. Next year he’ll be at a school somewhere studying something. Don’t know where or what. One of the majors he is interested in is communication studies. I was looking at various college catalogs about this major and found it fascinating what course was missing: listening. Classes are taught on speaking, creating content, persuasion, marketing, and conflict. But not listening. Ask a good sales person, a good pastor, a good nurse, or a good police officer what is the most important thing they do and listening will be at the top of the list.
I remember growing up in the 1980s. Grandpa, grandma, and I sat in a crowded, small room on Saturday nights and listened to the Prairie Home Companion. The cold north wind blowing off the frozen cornfields and the hot logs crackling in the fireplace were the only background noise. We hung on every word Garrison Keillor said—laughing, crying, and thinking as a response.
People don’t listen well these days. The north wind and the fireplaces are too loud. The world is noisy. Phones are vibrating. Images are flashing. We are an impatient people. The two-hour radio show has been replaced by the 280 character tweet. Sound bites cater to our short attention spans. Ours is an age of narcissism. Personal broadcasting is the norm. Authentic conversation is rare.
The most interesting people are interested people. Interested means caring and kind. People are much more interested in how much we care far more than how much we know. Here are four ways to reclaim the lost art of listening and become more interesting.
- Wait for somebody to finish before you respond.
Somebody once said: “I’m sorry the middle of my sentence interrupted the beginning of yours.” I’m guessing he or she was frustrated the other party in the conversation cared more about their own right to be heard. Kindness, on the other hand, values others as much as self. Kindness creates safe spaces and patiently waits for the right time to speak.
- Ask more and better questions.
Good questions communicate caring. They speak compassion, clarity, and commitment to others. Quality questions communicate something like this:
- I want to know more about you.
- I want to understand you more clearly.
- I disagree with you, but I’m open to being wrong so I am inviting you to talk some more.
So ask more and better questions.
- Listen out of curiosity—not generosity.
=The best listening happens when listening isn’t a chore, but an act of learning. Believe that everybody (that includes you) can learn something from somebody. Good listening has nothing to do with being polite. Effective listening has everything to do with humility, inquisitiveness, and love for others.
- Listen to understand—not respond.
Over-talking, winning an argument, proving somebody wrong, and putting somebody in their place—those things do nothing for the common good. The highest aim of listening is to more fully understand another human being. Such is a beautiful thing. Not a lot of people are able to pull off good listening these days—but those who do are successful, respected, and fascinating people. So listen well.