Talking and Listening

I remember as a young child being told by my parents and grandparents that I had two ears and one mouth, so I should listen twice as much as I talked. The fact that they had to repeatedly tell me this probably indicated that someday I would become a professional speaker.

We all need to listen—not only to what’s being said but to how it’s being said and to what’s behind the words. There’s a big difference between hearing, listening, and truly understanding.

I think it’s interesting that the words “listen” and “silent” contain all of the same letters. My late, great friend and colleague Dr. Stephen Covey often said, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Dr. Covey recognized that in any conversation, debate, argument, or discussion, having both parties talking at the same time is counterproductive. He taught that you must first understand the other person’s position and be able to articulate it to their satisfaction before you should begin to make your own point.

Ironically, I have found that when I practice this wisdom of Dr. Covey’s, there is often very little difference between my opinion and the other person’s.  Somehow, the process of understanding someone else’s words and the thoughts behind them allows us to reconsider our own position and discover a middle ground that had not previously been obvious.

As a blind person myself, people often ask me if my hearing is improved. Doctors have assured me that the acuity of blind people’s hearing does not improve, but their listening skills become very acute. Just as there are things you might see but overlook, there are things we hear that we do not allow to come into our consciousness. Listening to others not only shows respect, but it gives us an opportunity to understand, learn, and create consensus.

Oftentimes, arguments, debates, or disagreements have more to do with semantics than reality. People fight to have everyone understand and agree with their description or verbiage surrounding an issue more than the position on the issue itself. In order to create harmony and consensus, we must give up the need to be right. As long as we divide the world into right vs. wrong, we force there to be a winner and a loser.  Anyone who has a significant other in their life knows that you can win an argument and walk away a loser.  Listening is a skill, an art, and a science.  It is one of the critical elements of success.

As you go through your day today, commit to listen, hear, and understand then decide whether or not you have anything to say.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift. He is also a columnist and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK  74145-9082; by email at; or on Facebook at

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