Just Listen

I have the sense that everyone I meet can teach me something. This even extends to things I consider myself expert at, such as playing the piano. I am constantly learning new things from my students that I did not know. Either they see something I don’t, or in explaining something they should just obviously get I come to realize how important something is that I have taken for granted and this realization makes me understand what I do better and more meaningful. When teaching and the student is not understanding the lesson, you must listen in order to see what they are perceiving and then you can try and bring them over to your way of looking at things. The bridge cannot be built until you know where both sides are first. A good teacher, and perhaps a good persuader, must thereby be an excellent listener.

I have watched two people talk to each other and they seem to be having two different conversations with each simply waiting their turn to speak without really listening to the other. What we need is to be heard and even more to be understood. How often do people actually listen to each other instead of simply waiting their turn? When I listen intently I often forget what I was going to say next because in the context of what the other person is saying my next thought becomes outside the stream of discourse.

Listening can be faked. I once formed a theory that proved to be very powerful and I feel bad about doing it. If you repeat the important sounding words the other person is saying not only will they think you are paying attention but that you are both understanding and agreeing.


Once while I was working for General Motors a strange guy sat down across from me in a break area and started talking about an engine. I understood nothing he was talking about. It amused me to watch his animated excitement while he rambled on and as I repeated certain words, “. . . carburetor . . . solenoid . . . points . . .” And on and on. He suddenly got up very pleased and rushed off. He returned a couple minutes later with another stranger in tow and he pointed between myself and this other person and excitedly said, “Tell him! Tell him!” I hadn’t understood a word and now I’m expected to convincingly repeat what guy #1 had just told me. I looked at guy #2, pursed my lips together, raised my eyebrows, and nodded knowingly. Guy #2 exclaimed, “Fuck!” and stormed off. Guy #1 then turned to me with delight and said, “Thanks, man, I thought he was full of shit but I wasn’t sure!” and off he went. If called up on any specific point I would have been revealed as a complete asshole, which I was just then.

Somewhere in there is how powerfully important it is to have someone listen to you. So powerful and so desperately important that the slightest hint that someone “gets you” is enough to fill you with excited engagement. That was the only time I ever used that technique except for demonstration and even after telling someone what I’m doing they still get very engaged once they get talking. I guess I should not share this with anyone because of the hurt and sense of betrayal and insult it can cause, but it is such a cool thing and kind of reveals how much we perceive is really just illusion.

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