”Wise men listen before they speak; what they say then becomes persuasive”. This proverbial quotation seems to indicate that it pays more to be silent than it does to be talking. Indeed, the fact that we have two ears and one mouth may well mean we were fashioned to do more listening and less talking.
By creation, some of us are slow to speak, reserved or reticent. These traits could be possible pointers to good listeners – listeners who may listen, assimilate, before giving a reply. In contrast some are plain blabber mouths, and would be in a haste to blurt out replies. Invariably they reply without necessarily understanding what they’re replying to. To their mind, speaking copiously means they know it all, so it’s talk, talk and talk.
In like manner, conceited, or condescending people are likely to listen just for listening’s sake. They would interject with replies simply because they feel more important and intelligent. However, Stephen Covey’s statement; ‘Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” is scientifically and naturally unconvincing; unless there’s empirical evidence to the contrary.
By nature’s design we hear, listen, understand and reply. It’s a divine function of the human brain. Are we not rational entities, and by default imbued with a sense of logic? Obviously yes. That being so, every rational person, listening to another, would want to be seen to be making sense with his replies. A reply borne out of a misunderstanding of what you’re replying to will be misplaced, and put you in an embarrassing situation. Which rational person would fancy exposing himself to ridicule or embarrassment? It wouldn’t appeal to common logic.
In a simple mathematical context, the word ”most”, also meaning ”majority”, represents any figure above fifty percent. To that extent what percentage figure does Covey refer to as ”most”? None. This makes it a vague statement standing purely on philosophical grounds, and yet made to appear as a declaration of fact.
Covey’s words hang loosely in this world where communication drives the dynamics of global trade. If ”most” of the stakeholders in international commerce don’t give appropriate replies in verbal interactions can we imagine what would happen? Global trade would have grounded to a halt.
But as things stand now world trade relations are expanding and solidifying, mostly through verbal communication and other electronic means of reaching out to people. This is made possible because people are rational, logical and give replies with an understanding of what they’re replying to.
Suffice it to state that nobody is perfect, and this extends to communication skills. People with Attention – Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are known to be forgetful, and have a short memory span, so they speak over you, or cut you off to get their replies out quickly. In this instance they stand the risk of not assimilating what they’re replying to.
Thus, conceited or condescending people, blabber mouths and people with ADHD may fall into the category of the people Covey refers to as ”most”. Clearly the sum total of these people cannot be said to be representative of the majority of the world population.
The statement, as it stands, leaves more questions than answers. Was it based on replies he received from his interactions with people globally? If so, what was the population size he interacted
with? Was the declaration borne out of solely observing listening skills in people? Answers to these questions would put the statement in proper perspective and lend some measure of credence to it. In the absence of this, it remains a theoretical declaration which does not appeal to human logic.
Granted that he conducted a survey, based on which he made his statement, such a survey would be primarily observational and interactive, in which he would look out for signals of poor listening traits and misplaced replies. However, this could be misleading, in that traits of bad listening and inappropriate replies may manifest because what’s being listened to is boring or unpleasant.
In such a situation the listener’s attention cannot be grabbed. Consequently, he would not understand what he’s replying to, and would reply only because he has to reply. As to whether the reply would be appropriate or not can be anyone’s guess. In my personal experience, people who speak with affectations put me off. I may appear to be listening to them but not particularly to understand what I’m listening to.
True to life, adults listen much more carefully to children than to adults. We expect children to have difficulty expressing themselves so we give them the time they need. We hear them out and try to understand how they’re feeling, not just what they’re thinking. Usually when we interrupt them it is meant to aid them to express themselves better, and not just for reasons of replying to what they’re saying. Did Covey factor this into his thought process prior to the declaration? Doesn’t look like it.
In putting out his statement he should have substituted the word ”most” with ”some”. This would have made it a no-brainer. But as it stands now it’s a sweeping statement without convincing basis and I’m unable to agree with him.