How to win friends?

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

Perhaps one of the most annoying habits some folk have – and I have to say that I detect the trait in my own human interactions at times – is when in conversation with another there is the tendency to ‘talk over’ them. You know, starting talking before the other has finished speaking.

Apart from anything else, it is a bit arrogant, the implication being: what I have to say is much more important tham your meagre contribution.

The problem is at least two-fold. Firstly, since the topic under debate is something they feel strongly about, they are more interested in saying what they want to say than they are in listening to the other person. The result is that even while one is speaking, the other is thinking about what they are about to say next, and are not listening.

I remember once at a family gathering, where it is not unusual for there to be six conversations going on with only five in have room, I had an idea. I found a wooden spoon, handed it to the one who was desperately trying to be heard above the furore, and I instituted the rule: you do not speak unless you have the wooden spoon in your hand. It worked a treat.

Then only this morning I was reading about the ‘Council Principal’, rooted in the Native American culture, and they use the same idea when there is an issue to be discussed and ruled upon. They call my wooden spoon a Talking Stick.

I am reminded of Edward de Bono’s book, How to Have a Beautiful Mind. Briefly, he was at a function of some kind and noticed two people. One was a strikingly attractive woman who stood, most of the time alone. Occasionally someone would drift in her direction, chat for a short time and then move on. The other was a short balding, bespectacled middle-aged man with a pot belly and shabby suit, and there was a crowd around him most of the evening. The difference? The woman was predisposed to talk about herself, the man was encouraging others to tell him about themselves. She was talking, he was listening.

The best advice my mother ever gave me was: you have two ears and one mouth. Use them in approximately in that proportion.

Funny, isn’t it, how when you walk down the street, you meet someone you know and they say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and you answer back, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Actually, there shouldn’t even be a question mark after those two statements, for we don’t expect an answer, do we?

I was struck on my first trip to Africa how when I met someone to whom I might have been introduced a day or two previously, he would take my hand in his two hands and say, ‘How are you?’ and the odd thing, slightly unnerving at first, was that he actually expected, and was waiting for an answer. Then he would say ‘How was your night?’ and then, ‘How is your wife?’ and again he’d wait for an answer, and this process could go on for 10 or 15 questions, after which I was expected to respond likewise.

We need to learn to listen. It’s a way of showing that we value the other and are interested in his or her views. How to win friends and influence people? Dead easy, you develop the art of listening.