My friend and I were enjoying some small talk with quick thoughts here or there. Then my friend looked at the old man and introduced himself. The old man was polite and direct at first. He answered us with his name, told us whom he was waiting for, and how often they came to the mall.
I am not sure where the magic happened, but somehow we got on the topic of what my friend and I were doing for a living, which prompted the Old Man to respond with some of the occupations he had held in his life.
What occurred next was truly astounding as my friend and I both got completely wrapped up in the endless stories this Senior had to share with us. He had lived through World War II; spent decades as a blue-collar worker, traveled to places of which I had never even heard, met cultures I know nothing about, ate food which intrigued me… It never seemed to end.
Both my friend and I could not help but listen to this man’s every word, and when there would be an end or a pause in the conversation we would ask more questions. Our questions would draw out more context and further insight. After more than an hour our friend showed back up, and it was time for us to leave.
Before we departed, our new constituent shared with us his utter joy and satisfaction at the conversation we had just had. I thought this odd since we had not done any of the talking. The Old Man then informed us it had been a long time since he had the chance to speak with such fine young men.
I was a little confused by this since he knew precious little about either of us. The majority of the talking, again, had come from his lips. In an hour we had made such an impression with this experienced gentleman that he felt we were men worthy of his respect. Over the years I have had multiple conversations similar to this one. In my experience I have noticed this truth…
People, in general, are used to being told what to say, how to act, what to wear, but all the while they are experiencing life. Each and every person on this planet has their very own story to tell. In fact, many times when two people have differing viewpoints on a certain topic it is either because one or more of them does not have all the relevant information, or they have experienced the issue with different perspectives.
I would like to go on a limb here and say, I believe a great many of the problems facing our society today come from a complete lack of listening.
When we take the time to hear someone and pay attention to what they say; without interruptions, only asking questions or clarifications; we gain a great many things.
First, we gain insight into “why” they are saying what they say, and “why” they feel the way they do. We come closer to understanding them. As we learn more about their point of view, we often find the reasons they feel the way they do carry merit and hold value.
Second, the other person feels like they are being heard. Every one of us can remember how frustrating it was when as a child we would try to explain our point of view only to have our parents shut us down and dictate to us. We may have agreed to what our parents said, but we always did so out of frustration, or we may have chosen to disobey completely.
The key difference is if someone feels they are being heard and given a chance to express their point of view entirely, then he or she becomes much more willing to do the same.
When I was in the military, I had a favored Officer who I was always willing and ready to support. I knew his orders might not always be something I would agree with, but he was always willing to hear my point of view and consider what my experience might bring to a situation. Because I knew he was a listener, I became an avid supporter of accepting his authority, even if I did not agree with his decisions. Just because he was willing to hear me, I became very loyal.
I have learned I get much better results in a conversation if I am willing to listen to the other person. I used to be the overly opinionated one who was determined to “make” someone understand my point of view. That very rarely got me the results I wanted. By listening, I open the way for legitimate sharing of thought. I get to have an attentive audience when it is my turn to speak. One willing to consider what I have to say because I am ready to hear theirs.
Now, for the hidden benefit. I have learned to listen first. Whenever possible, I want to have my turn listening first because it gives me the advantage.
If I am paying attention to what they say, then most of the time they will tell me what they need to hear from me to help my point of view come across correctly. Strange as it may seem if you listen people will tell you how to convince them of your point of view.
Next, I can determine in advance if certain positions are causing someone to become emotionally distracted from the real topic of discussion. If I am going to be able to achieve what I set out to do without attacking someone’s pride my discussion becomes much more effective.
Third, I know this might be hard to swallow for some, even more for me, but sometimes… WE CAN BE WRONG! Selfishly, if I am taking the time to listen to the other person it is possible, I will realize my view was wrong even before I share it. I always think of the quote from Abraham Lincoln when it pertains to this element.
He said, “It is better to be thought a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” If I catch my error in my head by listening before I voice a mistake, then I might not get to look smarter, but I certainly avoided looking worse.
Fourth, by allowing them their chance to speak first, I usually ensure my thoughts and opinions are getting voiced last. He who shares their input last has the advantage. That does not mean I need to have the last word, merely that I will be the one who voices the last legitimate point. In fact, if it is an argument I am engaged in, then it is possible giving them the last word will only help sink my final legitimate point home as they open their mouth and make themselves look foolish at the end. Maybe they should have listened to good old Abe.
I wrote this blog as a quick way to share with you some of the strengths I have learned about listening. I am not trying to teach you how to win an argument, or sound smarter. I am trying to share a skill which can accomplish a great deal of good in your life. The only way this works is for you to legitimately care about what the person has to say and actively pay attention to them. Make eye contact, ask questions, let them know you are giving them your full attention. People just want to know they are respected, as do we all. I admire and enjoy conversations with good listeners just as I hope others do with me.
Remember, if you are speaking with someone keep this in mind. If you were the other person, if you were in their shoes, if you had been through all the same things they have in their life, you would believe just as they do. So, take the time to learn why they think that way. It is both respectful and helpful. Then you will find through listening you become much more efficient at speaking.