But my principal didn’t want to reassign me to a different position. He was eager to keep me where I was because I was doing such a good job. So when he refused my request, I decided to apply for an opening that came up at another school.
I was actually serious about making the transfer, until I had an interview with that school’s principal. Although that meeting took place more than 30 years ago, I remember to this day the reason I withdrew my application.
It had to do with listening.
We met for close to an hour, and I think I spoke a total of five minutes during that time.
It was fascinating at first to hear him describe specifics about his school and the faculty. But then he began “holding forth” about himself and all the things he’d done.
At no time did he try to learn about my teaching style, my attitude towards children, or anything else that might have helped him make an informed decision about my suitability for the position.
Instead, at the end of our time together, he looked at me and said, “I think you’re the kind of person who’d fit right in here. The job is yours if you want it.”
I was flabbergasted.
He hadn’t spoken to my current principal, and he hadn’t asked me any questions.
I’ll never forget the thought that ran through my mind at that moment: How could you possibly know if I’d fit in? You haven’t made any effort to get to know me at all!
I politely told him I’d think about it and get back to him, but I already knew what my answer would be. His behavior during that interview foreshadowed what life would be like at that school. There was no way that I would work for someone who was so self-absorbed.
Since then, I’ve encountered scores of people – many of them in key leadership positions – who share this principal’s habit. They’re focused on talking about themselves and their accomplishments. They don’t seem to consider that those around them might have something meaningful to say. They don’t understand that, by listening, they can learn from others and validate their worth.
Today I consider this habit a measure of a person’s ego and self-awareness. The more you’re willing to let others have the floor and listen with genuine interest to what they're saying, the more comfortable you probably are in your own skin. And the less you feel the need to dominate discussions. You’re more likely to acquire important information and gain insights you didn’t have before.
A test to check how much you’re listening versus talking
When you’re in a conversation with others – whether individually or in a group – imagine that there’s a spotlight shining down on the person who is speaking. Consciously monitor the percentage of time the spotlight is focused on you compared to the others.
If you’re in the spotlight most of the time, it’s a good bet the people you’re talking to are experiencing a mix of frustration and disappointment. Like me in that interview, they’re probably wishing you’d stop talking long enough to take an interest in them.
Not only that, if you don’t listen, how will you know what your customer really wants? Or what a colleague thinks will work on a specific project? Or what your child needs from you right now?
In case you need further convincing, simply monitor your own reaction when you’re engaged in a conversation with someone who’s pre-occupied with delivering their own message and appears to have no interest in what you have to say. I predict your thoughts and feelings won’t be positive.
Whether you’re at home or at work, when you take time to let others do the talking and you focus exclusively on understanding them and making them feel understood, you will be utterly amazed at the transformation that takes place in your relationships.
Every human being has a deep need to be accepted and understood. If you fulfill that need, you’ll form an unbreakable bond that can last a lifetime.
"It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life.” - Alfred Adler, Austrian psychiatrist (1870-1937)