A couple of days ago I wrote a post about leadership and followership, the overwhelming majority of literature dedicated to leadership, and the dearth of literature dedicated to followership. When writing that post, it reminded me of the same relationship between speaking and listening. That is, how much literature do we see dedicated to speaking or communicating and how much do we see dedicated to listening?
Don’t get me wrong, I think that communication is an essential part of the human experience, but dont we think that learning to listen should be equally (if not more?) important than speaking. We can make the same comparison we did with leadership: how much time do we spend speaking in relation to how much time we spend listening? We spend far more of our time listening. So, shouldn’t it follow that we need to learn how to be excellent listeners?
Of course, if we don’t know how to speak (at all) then the listening is futile, but I suspect that if the majority of people were excellent listeners, we might be able to aid the speaker in communicating their point. Just as I made the case with followers who can make a leader better, I think that listeners can make a speaker better, too.
A slight tangent: how many courses are there in communication? There are probably quite a few more than there are in listening. In fact, there’s even an entire academic discipline dedicated to communication. Is there one for listening? Some may argue that clinical/counseling psychology might be how listening creeps its way into an academic discipline, but that’s only one piece of the training for clinical/counseling psychologists. It’s important to note that psychologists who don’t go the route of counseling won’t get this kind of training, so it’s necessary to specify clinical/counseling.
I like to think I’m a pretty good listener (and have been given affirmative feedback), but I don’t doubt that I would benefit from the insights of academic research on listening. In fact, I bet we all could benefit from academic research on listening. Until then, we’ll have to rely on the wisdom of quotes:
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” – Plato
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
“If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” – Albert Einstein
“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey
“We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” – Diogenes Laërtius
And one last one that I really like:
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” – M. Scott Peck