“When somebody comes to me and wants to sell me something, whether it’s Fuller brushes, a political position or whatever, the first thing I ask myself is, ‘Does this person know how to listen?’”
A mentor of mine—a licensed marriage and family therapist—taught me this important principle back in 2014. I’ve found it very helpful. Here’s why.
If you’re constantly talking, making noise, and transmitting, you cannot receive from another. Simple physics—you’re dominating the airwaves. Not listening and hearing the other before you is more costly than you think.
Consider this. A doctor, when he or she takes you on as a new patient, asks you many questions both on the intake forms and in the exam room. Why? Doctors do this because they cannot make accurate diagnoses without getting at least basic (or, preferably, extensive) health history information about you. An expert diagnostician must be a good listener—no shortcuts on this one. And to be a good listener means being quiet and paying attention. This is the standard in health care but also in other helping professions like law, therapy, spiritual direction and social care.
We’ve all had the experience of being with someone who had something they wanted to sell us or bring us into and they did so by being a talking head. They had a spiel they needed to present and didn’t want to be bothered with questions and input from you, the buyer. If you’re attentive, you figure out that they are not really interested in serving you but in closing the sale.
That is where you simply say “No thank you, that won’t work for me.” Why? Because they’ve not listened carefully and respectfully enough to know what you really need.
Put yourself in the role of the seller. What can you do to avoid these mistakes and show genuine care for the person you’re trying to help?
- Be the last to speak. Let the buyer tell you what they want if you’re selling. Let your subordinates share their ideas about new company direction before you give your proposal. This was the practice of Nelson Mandela’s father, a tribal chief (see the video below).
- Value the person before you as a person more than as an impersonal target that you can use as a sounding board or as income.
- In relationships, understand that it’s usually the hearing of the other—rather than giving bullet-point solutions to problems—that brings the healing of the other. If you’ve been married a while, you probably know this. When people feel they’ve been heard, they are open to you and what you have to bring them.
The Making of a Surgeon (William A. Nolen)