One of the profound lessons in listening came from a scene in the movie “Open Range” (2003) where the two protagonists prepared for the final shoot-out. Kevin Costner (“Charley Waite“) hesitated to say something and Robert Duval (“Boss Spearman“) said, “You go on and talk, Charley. I hear you.” Those simple and powerful words exquisitely accomplished what the best listeners and leaders do:
1. Encourage the other party to continue speaking
2. Acknowledge the other person
3. Acknowledge that you are listening and they have your attention
We sometimes cannot wait for others to finish talking so we can take over the conversation (this is especially true of managers and technical people who know or think that they know the answers before they hear everything).
I learned another lesson from one of my five year old sons. He was staring out the balcony window and told me about a white truck. I walked over, didn’t see anything, and asked “What white truck?” He replied, “That white truck”. I still could not see a white truck and about to walk away…until I kneeled down to his eye level and then saw the white truck. My little boy taught me:
4. You can’t always see or understand things unless you view things from the other person’s perspective.
Finally, there was an incident with the US Ambassador to China. Gary Locke, the US Ambassador, went to an exhibit and knelt before a child to listen and speak to her at eye level. This is very much unheard of in China and widely reported in the Chinese media.
5. Give the other party your full, unobstructed attention as an equal.
How often do we see others standing up, looking at their PCs, phones, shuffling papers,etc. when we talk to them? Do you feel that they really care? Bill Clinton is said to be one of the best listeners who made you feel important and as if you were the only person in the room with him. Learn from and remember what Robert Duvall said in "Open Range" when it's your turn to listen. You go on and talk, Charley. I hear you.”