Listening: The Lost Art

“It takes a great man to be a good listener.”  ― Calvin Coolidge canstockphoto5078532

“It takes a great man to be a good listener.”

― Calvin Coolidge


There is an adage that says, “God gave us two eyes and two ears but only one mouth so we would look and listen twice as much as we talk.”

Looking and listening are closely related and support each other, but I think listening should rank as number one on the charts of skills many of us can improve. I would categorize listening as a lost art, but one that many of us would benefit from if we could re-discover it.

Those who work in parks and rec are especially in need of good listening skills; being able to listen to and understand what people are saying is central to being able to deliver services that meet the needs of customers.

On a wider scale, think of what could be accomplished if everyone around the world would begin to really listen to what others say and try to see the world from somebody else’s point of view. Many people in politics and public life would benefit from this.

A wise journalism professor once told me that “the world you see depends on where you stand,” meaning that if you change your perspective you may just see new information that could change your viewpoint or help you better understand a subject.  Another instructor in a continuous-improvement course told us: “seek first to understand” before making judgments or trying to change the way something is being done.

Both of these ideas are good and constructive, but both rely on effective listening skills.

I admit I have to concentrate on being a good listener. I tend to want to jump in with my own thoughts, or smart-alec remarks, or drift away and lose focus, or complete somebody’s sentence with what I think they want to say rather than apply the “one mouth-two ears” method and let the speaker complete their thought.

Coming from a background as a photojournalist, I have learned that most people like to talk about themselves, their job, their family, their passions or whatever the topic of conversation.

A question can often lead to a plethora of information if I just put the question out there then hush-up and let it go where it will; but I have found that if I truly want to know what another person thinks about a subject, I need to be patient enough to allow them to put it into their own words. I can’t filter it through what I think the answer should be; most times when I do that, I am wrong and end up throwing the other person off track.

So when I do an interview, I try my best (not always successfully) to simply ask the question, then let them work through getting to the answer they believe is correct.

Questions will invariably lead to more questions so I may ask follow-on questions to clarify an answer, but I try not to interrupt the speaker in mid-thought; I take notes if I have more questions and ask them when there is a natural pause or when they have signaled an end to their thoughts.

It’s all about wanting to really hear what the other person is saying and, beyond saying, feeling about the subject. Sometimes you have to listen beyond the words and really hear what they may, or may not, be saying. This is especially true if the conversation is over the phone.

Voice modulations, hesitation, long pauses, change in tone, fast talking, slow talking and other auditory cues are often clues that might indicate there is more to what the speaker is saying. It just may mean that you have to ask a few more questions to get to the full answer.

But you won’t know this unless you are really listening.

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