Somebody once observed that God made us with two ears and one mouth for a reason. But today I heard somebody say it better:
“Listen fast and speak slow.”
I’m sure most of my friends would say that I have failed miserably on both counts. But they are my friends. They’ll forgive my compulsion to entertain them with dreary war stories they have heard often.
How I admire Silent Cal Coolidge, our laconic president. Dorothy Parker was said to have leaned over to him at a dinner party and said, “Mr. President, I made a bet with somebody that I could get you say more than two words.”
“You lose,” he replied.
Mark Twain, who was as prolix as Coolidge was silent, reportedly observed: “If I had more time I’d write shorter.” Good advice
When I ran for political office years ago I thought I was supposed to persuade the voters to agree with me. After all, isn’t that what the great stem-winders do?
My first few outings at the train station consisted of throat straining exercises in pontification. Needless to say I spent a lot of time alone. It was a performance worthy of Hyde Park Corner. I could have been standing on a fruit crate, declaiming to the multitudes.
Perhaps it was while sucking on a lozenge I realized that voters did not want to listen; they wanted to talk.
In fact, it soon became clear that election campaigns are not about the education of the voters but the education of the candidate. I started to listen more and speak less. I started to learn what was on peoples’ minds. And I won.
Great salesmen are like that: They let the customer sell themselves. “What do you need?” they ask. “Maybe I can help you.” Nobody wants to listen to a boring sales pitch.
Listening also helps you ascertain whether the other person has actually heard. It’s human nature to assume that because we’ve taken the trouble to communicate we’ve been understood. It’s an illusion. Our audience is probably thinking about what to buy for dinner.
Come to think of it, my readers probably tuned me out minutes ago. And I’m just prattling along.
Maybe I’ll take a breath here. And listen.