Learn to Listen

Posted by dwallace on September 6, 2011 in Grandpa |

When I first began interviewing people, one of the first people I interviewed was my late-grandpa. He, along with my dad, had owned a saw mill that made wine and whisky barrels. When the bottom fell out of that market switched gears and started a real estate company together.

At this time, I had grandiose ideas of what being a writer was and how I was going to make a lot of money doing it. So I sat down and began telling my grandpa about my idea of interviewing successful entrepreneurs, learning how they got there and because everyone wants to know how they did it, I’d sell a lot of books.

As my grandpa began to tell me what he thought about my idea, I interrupted him.

Grandpa waited patiently for me to finish and then began to speak, but I interrupted him again and continued to do so several more times during our interview.
Basically, my interviewing skills were lacking. I wanted him to hear about what I was doing more than I wanted to hear about what he had done in his past.

My grandpa finally said, “One of the first lessons you need to learn is how to listen.”

I said, “Yeah I hear you but…”

He then interrupted me and said, “No son, I don’t think you do. Listening and hearing are two different things. In order to listen to someone you have to have your mouth shut and your ears open. Right now your mouth is open and your ears are shut.”

It was a little harsh but it snapped me out of interrupting him. I realized that in an interview you are not the star, the person being interviewed is. Many times I have wanted to jump in and talk during an interview or conversation, but my grandpa’s advice has stuck with me.

In every day conversation, we’re often waiting for a break to say what we’re thinking and often we miss the whole point. When I face a person who constantly wants to talk and not give anyone else a chance to speak, I often think this person needs to hear my grandpa’s advice, and depending on who it is, I may just give it.

I was in a writers group once and a new writer came to our group of five and had an article she wanted critiqued. Her article was for a specific high-protein, low-carb diet that everyone has heard of. The lady’s introduction was great, it drew me into the article. She had personalized her article how she lost weight through this diet and had scientific data supporting her claims that this was the best way to lose weight.

As our group went around and critiqued her article she became very defensive. She interrupted and interjected her opinions. She wasn’t listening to any feedback.

I explained that in order to take in the feedback she had to be quiet and listen.

“But I have to talk in order to remember. I have to be able to write it down,” she said interrupting me.

“You don’t have to talk to write it down,” I said.

“Yes I do. Or I won’t remember. Besides, I hear what you’re saying, but I want you to understand what I was trying to say here,” she said.

I almost threw my hands up and said forget it. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her, but I decided to try anyway.

“Ok stop,” I said.

The lady continued talking over me, so I got pushy and raised my voice and said, “Hey! Stop talking. You can’t hear me when you’re talking. Ok? Listening and hearing are two different things. In order to listen to someone you have to have your mouth shut and your ears open. Right now your mouth is open and your ears are shut. So you’re not hearing anything any of us are saying to you.”

The lady immediately stopped speaking. Her eyes welded up, but not enough that a tear was shed. She didn’t say anything for the rest of the workshop except for, “Thank you,” when it was all over.

The next week when our group reconvened the lady wasn’t there. I said, “I hope it wasn’t because of me.”

The group members looked at each other and then one of the girls said, “Actually she emailed all of us and said she wouldn’t be back because you were rude and that this was her first workshop and it was the first time she’d ever let anyone read her work. Then she said something about not having to deal with that kind of pompous attitude, so she quit.”

I was in temporary-disbelief. “What? Are you serious,” I said.

The group of four looked blankly at me and I said, “Oh well, she’ll have to get a thicker skin if she wants to be in any workshop.”

Later I thought about it and realized the advice could have gone either way. I could have listened to what she was trying to say. I could have stopped talking too. But I justified it because that was the way we always did it—the writer has to be quiet when getting critiqued, and I assumed she knew the rules.

Next time, I’ll have to remember that, “In order to listen to someone, you have to have your mouth shut and your ears open,” still applies to me, as well as the person who’s running their mouth.


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