It's rumored that President Franklin D Roosevelt was a stickler on listening. It distressed him when he found people who chose not to listen, so during one state dinner (so urban legend has it), he greeted every guest with the phrase "I murdered my grandmother this morning." It both amused and dismayed the president that his comment was met with an endless sea of smiles and senseless gushing... until a foreign diplomat came along and responded, "I'm sure she had it coming, Mr. President."
All are a critical part of accomplishment. We often let our perceptual filters take over, and when that happens we all get in trouble. Often, we listen attentively at the beginning of a relationship (or even a conversation), but then we JUST KNOW what's coming next and so we tune it out. When I was an undergrad at Central College, my ethics professor was dangerously close to retirement. I was carrying a solid A in the class and had already surmised that he was no longer even reading my assignments, so I decided to test the theory. When the case study arose about the infamous Ford Pinto and the exploding gas tanks (due to an inexpensive valve Ford decided to leave off), we were asked to use the utilitarian theory (greatest good for the greatest number) to argue whether Ford's decision to risk the lives of millions for economic gain was ethical. My response went something like this (keep in mind, I was a young, cocky know-it-all in my early 20's): "Ford was ethical for producing the Pinto without the valve, and it could be easily justified using the utilitarian point of view. If you think about the type of person most likely to drive a Ford Pinto, it is a benefit to society as a whole that they be most likely to die in a fiery crash." Soon thereafter, my paper came back with a solid 'A' and the professor feedback, "It's about time somebody took the Ford position and argued it well."
Are YOU listening? Are you hearing? Are you paying attention? Are you staying focused? Are you holding your perceptual filters in check? I love this scene from Sister Act. There are so many lessons on listening from this one little scene:
If you're like I am, and listening is a constant struggle to fight for focus among many competing inputs, you may need to follow Sister Mary Clarence's advice: "Alma! (stomp, stomp) Check your battery!"
Your "battery" may include your feelings about the speaker, your own health, what you're having for lunch, the usefulness of the conversation, perceptions about the topic, what you're going to say next, why the speaker is wrong... well, the list goes on. Whatever is preventing you from listening, check it at the door. Your conversations and your accomplishments will get a lot farther.