Are you a Disraeli or a Gladstone Listener?

Good listeners validate the worth of other people, thus increasing the likelihood that they will listen even more attentively to the ideas we are proposing. This mutually beneficial exchange is the goal of all communication exchanges.

Good listening skills are perhaps best captured in the distinction made by an Englishwoman whose name history failed to record. She moved in London’s upper circle, though, and so had the good fortune to dine on two separate occasions with Gladstone and then with his political arch rival Disraeli.

Asked to compare the two, she replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”

Another example of the power of listening is to be found in foreign dignitaries attending a White House state dinner. Urban-legend or actual fact, the story goes that so awe-inspiring are such occasions that most guests going through the receiving line fail to really hear the President’s pleasantries. Taking advantage of this kind of nervousness, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is reputed to have had some fun on occasion with his guests. When he was in a playful mood and when they asked, “How are you this evening, Mr. President?” he would pull a metaphoric leg by “Fine, thank you, I just murdered my mother-in-law!”

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Most guests would smile in response and then move along to the next person in line. The Chinese ambassador, however, listened very intently on one particular evening. He is reported to have looked Roosevelt straight in the eye as he replied, “I am certain she deserved it, sir!”

The Listening Levels

You probably operate on all these levels in the course of a given day: Distracted, Conversational, Focused, Evaluative. We can be mildly distracted while listening to some sources of information: having music or the television on in the background as we write a simple email is a forgivable violation of good-listening laws.

When engaged in Conversation, we exchange thought of low-level importance and do not force our minds to engage in analytical thinking, the way we would do when operating on the Evaluative level. This level is mandatory when we need to imbibe critical information in order to make important decisions. The Focused level is evident when we are listening to a speech or television program, for example, that requires our attention but is not significant in terms of decision-making or problem -solving we may have to do.

Test Yourself

When others trust us, they feel good about us and our intentions. They also feel good about themselves. Good listening skills, because they evince an ideally sincere interest in others, are integral to building trusting relationships.

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1 – not at all

2 – occasionally

3 – often

4 – usually

5 – always

1. I listen to customers/client/co-workers well enough to know what they want from me.

Name of person who might verify this numerical rating:

2. I take notes as others speak so I don’t have to interrupt and yet I don’t have to worry about forgetting what I want to say.

Name of person who might verify this numerical rating:

3. I try to make the environment conducive to good listening.

Name of person who might verify this numerical rating:

4. I try to spend about 50% of the conversation listening and the other 50% speaking.

Name of person who might verify this numerical rating:

5. I give feedback on the most salient parts of the conversation.

Name of person who might verify this numerical rating:

6. I listen to what is said as well as to what is not said.

Name of person who might verify this numerical rating:

If your score was less than 30, you may need to do some introspection and then commit to improving a certain skill or several, over the next several months. Test yourself again at that time and note your improvement. Contained within each of these six elements, of course, is a tip for what you can do to improve your listening skills.


by Marlene Caroselli