“In the instrumental view of education a student is ‘inadequate’, you know, ‘they’re not yet hireable’. So the student might feel themselves to be in a kind of incomplete state. But to me, a student is at the highest intellectual level there can be. There’s nothing beyond that — we’re all students, ultimately, and we continue to be students as we go through the enlargement of our minds. There’s a dignity to being a student that’s sometimes overlooked. There’s a maturity involved in one’s approach to education that is sometimes not demanded of students.”
Many communicators try to make themselves look smart. Great listeners are more interested in making their audiences feel smart. They help people approach their own views with more humility, doubt, and curiosity. When people have a chance to express themselves out loud, they often discover new thoughts. As the writer E. M. Forster put it, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” That understanding made Forster an unusually dedicated listener. In the words of one biographer, “To speak with him was to be seduced by an inverse charisma, a sense of being listened to with such intensity that you had to be your most honest, sharpest, and best self.”
Inverse charisma. What a wonderful turn of phrase to capture the magnetic quality of a great listener. Think about how rare that kind of listening is. Among managers rated as the worst listeners by their employees, 94 percent of them evaluated themselves as good or very good listeners. Dunning and Kruger might have something to say about that. In one poll, a third of women said their pets were better listeners than their partners. Maybe it wasn’t just my kids who wanted a cat. It’s common for doctors to interrupt their patients within 11 seconds, even though patients may need only 29 seconds to describe their symptoms. In Quebec, however, Marie- Héléne experienced something very different.
I was totally a victim of this concept of professionalism, as I think many people are. We had a guest lecturer at university and he said that he never strives to be a professional but an amateur in the best sense of the word and when I heard that, something just clicked.