“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” –Epitetus

In Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life” the 9th rule is to assume the person you are listening to knows something you do not. Now, we all know that listening is important. Afterall, in Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” I count 9 principles that relate back to listening. Even Chris Voss, former FBI negotiator and author of “Never Split The Difference”, has said that all negotiating begins with listening and that all encompassing focus should be on listening to your counterpart when he or she is speaking – implying that listening is the most important skill in negotiating. Both Carnegie and Voss, along with others I’ve learned from, have influenced me so much that I carry around a pocket notebook to write notes as I talk with others so I do not miss anything important. As usual, however, Peterson brought the point home coming from a completely different angle.

Peterson relates the act of listening as enabling others to think. People need to think, and they can think by simulating the world around them. If he projects his thoughts on them in the form of advice it lets his clients off the hook of thinking. Carl Rogers wrote, “The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.” Peterson recommends the same exercise that Rogers suggested many years ago: Institute a rule that each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.” They suggest that true listening takes courage because when you are committed to summarizing someone’s thoughts you open the door to having their thoughts influence you.

Think about it, how often when someone else is speaking are you thinking about what you are going to say next. If you’re like me, it takes serious effort to put all your attention on what the other person is saying. This is a skill, a great skill that takes courage to practice. It is a skill worth while; whether you are trying to win friends, negotiate like your life depends on it, or to lead a better life. So try what Carl Rogers suggests with just one person, have the courage to listen.

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