he Art Of Really Listening To Other People

Dec. 29, 2006 – For a number of years the late Mortimer Adler was Chairman of the Board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, In an hour-long interview with Mr. Adler in his Chicago office back in the 1980s, author Hal Gieseking asked him about the secrets of listening to others. Here is the author’s description of that conversation.

“How can you make people listen to you when you talk with them? How can you learn to listen to what they want to tell you?.

Mortimer Adler: “If someone says to you, ‘Shall I tell you why I love you?’ or ‘We’re thinking of promoting you to Vice President,’ you stop daydreaming and really listen to what that person has to say.

“If you can bring even a small degree of that intense motivation to other conversations and meetings, all other rules about how to listen become secondary.”

I really listened to Mortimer Adler. My motivation: I had to write an article about the art of listening that was due in about twenty-four hours. He stressed that to participate in good conversations or meetings, you must learn to be a good listener, and it’s much harder than most people think.

Here are four Adler rules for listening well.

1. Listening is not a passive activity. Unless your mind is involved as well as your ear, you aren’t really hearing the other person.

2. Listen for key words and ideas. Reach out and catch what is in the mind of the speaker – just as the catcher in a baseball game sometimes has to reach out for the ball the pitcher has just thrown.

3. Don’t be distracted by how the person speaks or unusual mannerisms. Try to understand what the speaker’s intentions are. What is he or she trying to communicate to you?

4. There’s one easy thing you can do when you are not sure if you understand what the other person is trying to tell you. You can say, “Did I understand you to say –” Now put what you think the person has said in your own words. If the speaker agrees you’ve stated the point correctly, now you are free to agree or disagree. To agree before you understand what the other person has said is inane. To disagree before you understand is impertinent.

At the end of our conversation, Mr. Adler with a somewhat mischievous look, asked, “Now can you tell me what I just told you?”

Thanks to a blessing of a tape recorder, I could.

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