After Marc Vaillancourt invited me to write about the power of conversation, I decided to focus on the act of listening because The Conversation Hub provides its subscribers with an opportunity to eavesdrop—to listen in on conversations via podcasts.
With this in mind, I shuffled on over to my local coffee shop with a pen and notebook in hand, to listen and jot down whatever I heard. Learning how to genuinely listen takes years of practice, and I’ve found that listening to conversations others immerse themselves in—whether in a coffee shop or not—is a great way to hone this skill. There are fewer opportunities to interrupt; unless you’re willing to chime in and initiate a conversation with a stranger.
A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with. – Kenneth A. Wells
Upon entering the coffee shop, I saw before me a stranger who I met nearly a year ago. I don’t recall everything we talked about when we first met, but I clearly remember a question he asked that has stuck with me ever since:
What makes you cry?
The listening exercise I came prepared to do no longer made sense, so I pushed it aside; it was time for coffee with a consequential stranger. We discussed the question I continue to ask myself from time to time, and then we moved forward, talking about our work, dreams, and what it means to have the yearning to change the world, which led him to reveal his favorite and thought provoking quote:
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself – Leo Tolstoy
I’ve yet to master the art of listening and conversation, nor do I want to for if I believe to have done so, I will probably stop trying. Like the first time we met, I don’t remember everything we discussed, but this quote and the general feel of our conversation remains with me. And next time we meet, we’ll start with Leo Tolstoy, and move forward again.
Image from Scenes from Muir Woods (2003)