There are no uninteresting subjects. There are only uninterested people.—GK Chesterton
People with the widest interests are the most successful and interesting people and potentially the best listeners. Poor communicators have a very narrow list of interests, and frequently limit their professional development and marital satisfaction. Becoming interested in the subjects that interest the people you speak with has at least four benefits.
Linguistic studies show that the most successful individuals, whatever their field, across all occupational lines, are those with the largest vocabularies. The average educated adult in the United States has about 2,000 words in his or her vocabulary and uses 400 of those words in 80 percent of his or her conversation. The most successful people have a few hundred more words in their working vocabulary.
These people are more successful than the average adult because they have a wider selection of solutions to problems. Whether they are at work or at home, they have more hooks to hang their ideas on. We think categorically and categories are defined by words. The larger the vocabulary, therefore, the greater the capacity for thought categories providing alternative means for identifying and resolving problems. Psycholinguists call the capacity for various solutions “requisite variety.” The two most efficient means of building a vocabulary and gaining requisite variety are through reading and listening.
Agape, one of several Koine Greek words for love found in the Bible has the most profound meaning. Agape is doing for others what they need. It is a love of doing, not of feeling. By acting in the best interest of the speaker, your feelings will frequently change toward the speaker’s subject matter. But even if your feelings don’t change, you have helped the speaker, and yourself, by listening.
You raise the self-esteem of the speaker by demonstrating interest in what he or she is saying. You will always win by raising the self-esteem of the speaker. Self-esteem is the number one prerequisite to personal productivity. If that person is important to you, listen to him or her. When you listen, you say, “You are important to me.” What that person is saying is important to him or her; therefore, it is important for us to listen. Think of a recent time that you were especially affected by someone listening to you, or remember how you felt as a child when someone really listened.
Finally, effective communicators are listeners who realize that everyone is an expert in some area in which the rest of us are ignorant. Everyone has his or her own genius. The effective listener discovers and profits from the genius in others. Become a constructively selfish listener and recognize that you can gain something from what a person says at least 80 percent of the time. Listen for what is valuable to you. As Lyman Steil says, “Ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and look for the Value Moment of Listening.” Eighty percent of the time you will discover something of value.
Here are two of what could be many examples:
After the first day of my communication workshop session a man determined to listen to his wife. She had refused to concede that they needed a new car. He came back to our second day of training to tell us that his wife had agreed that a car was necessary, and they had already begun their search. Why this sudden turnaround? He listened to her “arguments” of why a “new car was not necessary,” and found that she was not definitely opposed to buying a new car. She only wanted a chance to express her opinion, to share her view, to be heard!
Immediately after my communication workshop Mary took a limousine to the airport. Skeptical that she would gain anything from anyone who spoke to her, she particularly doubted that the elderly limousine driver might offer anything of value. After all, she was a well-placed executive and had more knowledge than most people. But she decided to ask the driver if she could sit up front and speak with him. She used all of the skills she had practiced in the workshop in an attempt to draw him out. She asked the appropriate questions in the correct manner and used her “power listening” skills to direct the conversation toward what was of value. He told his stories as she listened.
Ten days later my telephone rang, and Mary excitedly told me what she had learned from the driver. “But,” she gushed, “I didn’t call to tell you that we can learn something from almost everybody. You already know that. I had to call because a florist just came to my office with an arrangement of flowers from the limousine driver. And . . . “At this point her voice broke, and she had difficulty getting out what she wanted to say. “And . . . with the flowers came this note, ‘Dear Mrs. B. thank you for giving me one of the most wonderful mornings of my life!'” Mary was learning the benefits of effective listening.
Months later Mary called again. The limousine driver left his previous job to become the chauffeur for the vice president of an electronics firm. This firm was interested in purchasing components from Mary’s company. Would Mary be interested in meeting his boss?
Don’t expect 100 percent payoff. The probability is high that you will lose more insights and opportunities by not listening attentively, compared to the few nonproductive conversations you may have to endure. Even when there is no immediate payoff, you are reaping four benefits: (1) you are raising self-esteem, (2) you are developing your listening skills, and (3) you are learning and broadening your interests and vocabulary. (4) you are experiencing greater peace and joy in your matital relationship and being more productive at work.
As the Bible says, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to be angry.” James 1:19