To write this book, I have spent the better part of two years delving into the academic research related to listening — the biomechanical and neurobiological processes as well as the psychological and emotional effects. There is a blinking external hard drive on my desk loaded with hundreds of hours of interviews with people from Boise to Beijing, who either study some aspect of listening or whose job, like mine, is listening-intensive; including spies, priests, psychotherapists, bartenders, hostage negotiators, hairdressers, air traffic controllers, radio producers, and focus group moderators.
Reading this book, you’ll discover — as I did — that listening goes beyond just hearing what people say. It’s also paying attention to how they say it and what they do while they are saying it, in what context, and how what they say resonates within you. It’s not about simply holding your peace while someone else holds forth. Quite the opposite. A lot of listening has to do with how you respond — the degree to which you elicit clear expression of another person’s thoughts and, in the process, crystallize your own. Done well and with deliberation, listening can transform your understanding of the people and the world around you, which inevitably enriches and elevates your experience and existence. It is how you develop wisdom and form meaningful relationships.
Listening is something you do or don’t do every day. While you might take listening for granted, how well you listen, to whom, and under what circumstances determines your life’s course — for good or ill. And, more broadly, our collective listening, or the lack thereof, profoundly affects us politically, societally, and culturally. We are, each of us, the sum of what we attend to in life. The soothing voice of a mother, the whisper of a lover, the guidance of a mentor, the admonishment of a supervisor, the rallying of a leader, the taunts of a rival are what form and shape us. And to listen poorly, selectively, or not at all is to limit your understanding of the world and deprive yourself of becoming the best you can be.