One of the most important — and frequently overlooked, and surprisingly difficult — secrets of truly successful communication is active listening.
In our eagerness to tell people about the ideas of liberty, we may miss out on the huge benefits of simply stopping and listening to what the people we are talking are saying in response.
Here are some of those benefits:
1. You learn what the other person’s primary concerns and interests are. This gives you a chance to address those directly, instead of talking about something the other person doesn’t care about.
2. You find out about any misconceptions they may have about libertarianism. This gives you a chance to clear those up.
3. You can discover areas of agreement, thus creating invaluable rapport.
4. Perhaps most importantly, you show the other person that you are interested in them. People tend to be reciprocal, and therefore they in turn will be more interested in you and what you have to say.
Most people don’t take the time and effort to do this. As Stephen Covey writes: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.”
When you make the effort to listen actively, you immediately become far more effective communicator.
To be a good listener, you must REALLY listen — not just pretend. Breathe and focus on what the other person is saying. When needed or appropriate, use the Echoing technique (described in another chapter) to be sure you’ve really understood their concerns.
While this is SIMPLE, it’s certainly not EASY. You’ll find this out when you try it. Active listening is a skill that must be developed (though you’ll reap benefits the very first time you try it).
But it is worth the effort. The benefits are powerful. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your communication.
The Power of Echoing
In one Dilbert cartoon, the obnoxious Dogbert character tells a communication seminar:
“There’s really no point in listening to other people. They’re either going to be agreeing with you or saying stupid stuff.”
Thank goodness Dogbert isn’t a libertarian!
The fact is, every successful persuasion conversation starts with listening.
Attentive listening assures the other person that you care about what they think, and allows you to effectively address their concerns.
But how do you know you’re really hearing what they’re saying?
It’s simple: Repeat what the other person said. Then ask: “Is that right?”
This technique is called “echoing.” Echoing lets someone know that you listened to them, heard them correctly, and understood what they said.
Example: They say, “In a libertarian society, wouldn’t poor people starve without government welfare?”
You say, “You’re concerned that poor people wouldn’t get the help they need in a libertarian society, and would starve. Is that correct?”
Wait for their response (and listen to it!). Then you can talk about how liberty helps the poor.
Echoing lets the other person know you’re listening. It also helps you fully understand their concern.
It’s a simple but powerful technique that builds the respect and rapport that is necessary to engage in constructive and persuasive conversation.
Is there an exception to this rule? Only one: Don’t listen to Dogbert!