The Greek philosopher Epictetus (55-135 AD) famously said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” His perspective has been repeated often. It’s become a familiar refrain to the point of cliché. His wisdom was as valuable then as it is today. Even so, I encounter countless people who greatly value speaking while placing little to no value on listening, with their ears or their eyes.
The next time you are in a conversation, even a digital conversation, ask yourself these simple questions:
- Am I truly listening or busy thinking about what I’ll say next?
- Am I hearing the words while fully capturing the context of the dialogue?
- Can I distinguish literal meaning from other modes of communication like irony, sarcasm, or satire?
- Is what I think they meant what they actually meant?
- Can what I see inform what I hear?
Our digital culture demands quality seeing and hearing. Nonverbal communication is as important as verbal communication. We can read a text message, social media status update, or blog comment and think we understand the intent of the sender. Then again, it is very easy for something to get lost in the medium of communication when nonverbals are absent. We know what was said, or at least we think we do; we don’t know how it was said, though. My free advice: Listen with your ears and your eyes whenever possible to ensure you are hearing correctly. Then and only then should you speak with confidence and authority.