There's More to Listening Than Shutting Your Mouth

Article excerpt

I Think some people are temperamentally predisposed to being good listeners. At least they seem that way, because they don't interrupt or talk about themselves a lot. On the other hand, maybe they're just shy, or they're not really thinking about what the speaker is saying.

I am not one of those people. I am an active listener. So active in fact, that I sometimes show I am "with" the speaker by finishing his or her sentences.

But after years of training as a psychologist, and years of living, I have gotten better. I have come to appreciate the skill of listening, both for its value and its rarity.

Living in an ambitious urban environment, I find that people are eager to talk about what they are doing. Sometimes it's hard to get a word in edgewise.

Periodic trips back home to the Midwest remind me that large numbers of people exist who are actually interested in what another person has to say. They understand that the opposite of speaking is not just waiting to speak.

Once in a while an experience comes along that reinforces my appreciation of the power of listening. One such took place in a Honda service waiting room. I was a frequent visitor there with one of my cars, so I usually went in with some paperwork, prepared to wait. On one of those visits, a small elderly lady sat down next to me. She wore gray wool house slippers and a plaid scarf covering white hair fixed in pin curls held with bobby pins.

I can't remember how the conversation started, but I soon found out that she too had grown up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As a youngster in the town of Deadwood, she remembered the grocer borrowing her sled in the winter to ferry packages up the steep hills of that old mining town. The major business of the town was the Homestake Gold Mine, but her father had emigrated from Germany and was a master craftsman. …