A leader listens deeply – Lessons from Plutarch

by otherleadership

“… In all cases, then, silence is a safe adornment for the young man, and especially so, when in listening to another he does not get fussed or barks out a response every minute, but even if the remarks are distinctly unwelcome, puts up with them, and waits for the speaker to pause, and, when the pause comes, does not at once interpose his objection, but, as Aeschines puts it, allows an interval to elapse, in case the speaker may desire to add something to what he has said, or to alter or unsay anything. But those who instantly interrupt with contradictions, neither hearing nor being heard, but talking while others talk, behave in an unseemly manner; whereas the man who has the habit of listening with restraint and respect, takes in and masters a useful discourse, and more readily sees through and detects a useless or false one, showing himself thus to be a lover of truth and not a lover of disputation, nor froward and contentious. Wherefore it is sometimes said not inaptly that it is even more necessary to take the wind of self-opinion and conceit out of the young, than to deflate wine-skins, if you wish to fill them with something useful; otherwise, being full of bombast and inflation, they have no room to receive it…”

 Moralia, Περὶ τοῦ ἀκούειν – De recta ratione audiendi (on Listening), Plutarch (AD 46-120), full English text available here.

I’ve often met people who tried to show leadership by “proactively anticipating” what the others were trying to say – namely interrupting! A good pupil of Plutarch would probably be seen today as a weak negotiator, unable to decisively make their points.

We should learn, instead, the art of active listening, that would enable truly virtuous discussions, that would build on difference of opinions and ultimately lead to a common and logical decision.

Sometimes I see that the aggressiveness of some destroys the social intelligence of a group and disables the logical thinking. We should listen more than speak, each of us. And if at the end of the meeting only a person has spoken, it means that the meeting was useless, and scheduled only for the sake of following what is blindly accepted to be a best practice. Think about this in your next meeting…