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  • Urging you to listen in order not to miss anything is hardly the way to get you to put your hammers, anvils and stirrups into play…

    “Listen carefully, boys and girls.” Teachers, instructors and other authorities might as well add, “or you won’t get to hear what the nice, boring man is saying.” What a warning. The precise reason you are not listening carefully is that you have no interest in what the nice, boring man is saying. But how often do you hear this sort of thing? How often do you have to put up with it yourself? In my opinion, the whole problem is one of definition.

    Teachers typically tell students to listen carefully to things they are not interested in. It’s not a great psychology.

    “If you don’t listen carefully, you may miss something.”

    “Thank God,” you’re thinking. “If only we could miss it all.”

    If you had your choice, you’d leave the guy there, talking to himself. Clearly, urging you to listen in order not to miss anything is hardly the way to get you to put your hammers, anvils, and stirrups into play. But let me suggest four reasons for listening to any speaker or teacher. The reasons start with the letters F, I, G, and S.

    Listen to Flatter

    Flatter the speaker. He or she came to talk to you, probably with good intentions in most cases. He would like to help you. He has something that might be good for you to learn. At least he thinks so. (Someone thinks so, otherwise he wouldn’t be there.)

    And he might actually have something worth hearing. You will never know unless you listen. But even if he doesn’t have anything of value for you, he’s still a human being. He would rather be flattered than ignored. Why not flatter him by keeping your eyes on him at all times?

    Not yet convinced?


    Listen to Impress

    Impress the speaker. Send him away thinking and talking about what a terrific student you are. Send him away amazed at the attention you gave him and the interest you showed. It is possible to de-press a speaker or to impress a speaker just by the kind of attention you give. With this choice, why not choose to impress?

    Not yet convinced?


    Listen to Get ahead

    Speakers, teachers—anyone—often can help you in ways you never imagine. But why would anyone want to make any special effort to help you get ahead? Maybe because you have flattered and impressed. If you have flattered and impressed someone, he is going to want to help you. If you have ignored and de-pressed someone, he is unlikely to do anything for you.

    Why not give yourself a chance to get ahead, perhaps with a summer job or a special connection that will help you get what you want? Can some speaker do that for you? Just about anyone can help you get ahead if he has a special feeling about you. Just about anyone can make a call, knows some friends, knows about a job or a possibility.

    Impressing people on your way through life is a lot like playing a game. You don’t know at the beginning of the game what plays will turn out to be the big ones so you have to try to play well the whole time in order to make sure you are playing well when the really important moments occur.

    In the same way, you rarely know who can help you. You don’t know who is talking to whom or what connections a person may have. It sure can’t hurt having as many people as possible out there spreading good words about you.

    Listen for Self-discipline

    If you think you can go through life always knowing who can help you and who can’t, who you should make an effort to flatter and impress and who you can afford to ignore and depress, you’re wrong. You’ll never do it. Sometimes the people who seem least in a position to help you are those who can do the most.

    Other times people who act like they can give you the world won’t actually lift a finger for you. The intelligent thing to do, if you want to get ahead, is be the best you can be at all times, which brings us to self-discipline.

    You ought to learn to listen with your eyes and body—looking attentive and holding your body erect—as a matter of developing your own self-discipline. Do you have the guts, the muscular development, and the ability to be able to flatter and impress someone who is saying things you have no interest in? That’s a skill you need to work on.

    Losers can’t spend even ten seconds listening attentively to someone who doesn’t immediately grab them as having something useful to say. In fact, some people have such bad habits and such dismal self-discipline that they are disruptive, show discourtesy, and act immature before the speaker even begins.

    They have conditioned themselves to believe that every teacher or speaker has nothing worthwhile to say to them, so they can’t even begin listening.


    You can teach yourself to pay attention to something that does not initially seem interesting. Intelligent people, and self- disciplined people, realize that all sorts of things of value don’t show their value from the start. You may have to listen for it, watch for it, dig for it. It doesn’t just grab you, you have to grab it. And to do that, you have to be able to put yourself in a position to be able to grab it.

    So why do you flatter and impress a boring speaker? Maybe because he can help you get ahead. But maybe just for practice. The next time you come upon a boring speaker, you can flatter and impress sufficiently to make that person want to help you get ahead.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will wait till the day you meet an important person who has something valuable to say to you, and then listen attentively with your eyes and body posture, turning over each phrase in your mind, nodding here and there, and occasionally tilting your head to show you are thinking. If your listening skills are poor, you will never get yourself in position to hear that important person. The invitations will have gone out to others as they do all the time.

    Unsuccessful people usually don’t even know the game is being played. They don’t even know what invitations they are missing or the parties going on around them.

    They see no correlation between listening skills, attention spans, and the willingness to flatter and impress for no apparent reason, and getting ahead, getting invited, getting opportunities. They think the careful, flattering, impressing listener is wasting time or, possibly worse, brown-nosing. And if they asked why you were listening to that crap they wouldn’t even understand the answer, “For practice.”

    The intelligent person who is interested in maximizing opportunities in life will begin to see the most boring speaker as an opportunity itself. An opportunity to practice an important skill under difficult conditions. Anyone can listen attentively to a great teacher or speaker. But how good are you at listening attentively with your posture and your eyes when the speaker or teacher is monotone and dull, and the subject contains no initial interest for you?

    Good challenge.

    What resources can you bring to the encounter to enable you to listen attentively?

    How animated can you keep yourself?

    What can you focus on?

    What can you tune in to?

    How well developed are your neck muscles?

    Can you keep sitting up straight and stay alert?

    Can you imagine that some movie star is watching you from the other side of a one-way window to check you out for some big movie role and some huge bucks?

    As the old, Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers used to say “Whatever it takes.” That’s the attitude of a champion. Not how boring the speaker is, but how good your response is.

    When your self-discipline reaches the point where you can listen attentively under the least enjoyable circumstances—when others have dozed off—you can be sure of one thing: your mailbox will be filled with invitations.

    Use every listening opportunity to practice your self-discipline, and when you get to the point where people around you are marveling at your ability to seem interested in the most boring stuff, be proud.

    “Gawd, how can you listen to that stuff? How can you stand that class?”

    “I practiced!”

    —Excerpted from the book, “Stuff Good Players Should Know.”


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