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Are You a Listener or a Reader?


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		  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.    


Loren Ekroth 2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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