Are You a Listener or a Reader?
Some people understand better by listening, others by reading. Which are you? Do you know?
As management guru Peter Drucker points out in his book, “Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” “Very few people even know that there are readers and there are listeners, and that very few people are both. Even fewer know which of the two they themselves are.”
Drucker illustrates the point with examples of recent U.S. Presidents: Eisenhower and Kennedy were readers. Eisenhower's staff made sure he was given questions from the press in writing before a briefing or conference. Kennedy, who knew he was a reader, assembled an admirable staff of brilliant writers such as Arthur Schlesinger and Bill Moyers, who wrote to him before discussing the memos in person.
Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson were listeners. FDR and Truman enjoyed oral give-and-take and were good at it. Lyndon Johnson, with years as a gifted parliamentarian, was – indeed, had to be – an excellent listener to deal with the nuances of congressional processes.
Some unfortunate results? Apparently, Eisenhower felt he had to do as his predecessors had done – to receive oral briefings from senior officials instead of reading executive summaries such as those prepared by his former military staff. However, according to Drucker, this didn't work well, and “Eisenhower . . . never even heard the question the journalists asked. And he was not even an extreme case of a nonlistener.” Further, “A few years later Lyndon Johnson destroyed his Presidency, in large measure, by know knowing that he – unlike Eisenhower – was a listener.” (Johnson kept on the Kennedy staff who wrote memos and papers, and “He never, apparently, got one word of what they wrote.”
How to manage these crucial differences? Do both. If you are going to have a crucial business conversation with others, prepare key points in writing as well as delivering them orally. Ideas need not always be written in detail. A few points and short examples will usually suffice.
From time to time I meet for an hour with a smart professional man to discuss organizational matters. I quickly learned that it was best for me to have a list of points to discuss that he can carry away. Otherwise much of what I share with him is forgotten. Our meetings are very casual, and the bullet points I bring with me also help to keep us on topic.
If you determine that you are primarily a reader, you can request that members who are going to meet for discussion prepare and distribute their “talking points” prior to the meeting. Also, if there are detailed reference papers they are drawing from, ask that they copy and distribute those as well. At a meeting itself, request a flip chart or whiteboard so that you can SEE the ideas as well as hear them.
Finally, if you are primarily a listener, you will normally understand well when spoken to. However, you may not remember everything later on. Listeners are proud of and like to trust their memories, and they often dislike taking notes. Listeners: Begin to take at least a few notes during important meetings or discussions. It's a good discipline worth developing.