Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Malcolm Gladwell talks about a good listener

When I was at school, we were often being told that we should value everyone because we all have different talents. Some people are good at schoolwork, some people are good at sport, some people are very kind, and so on. Children quickly spot that some people are not noticeably good at anything in particular. The writers of the textbooks were aware of that and so they had to have a catch-all 'talent' for untalented, undistinguished people, and that was 'being a good listener'.

Or at least, that was how it seemed to me at the time. But Malcolm Gladwell has now contributed a piece on the BBC suggesting that being a good listener really is a valuable skill, at least in the case of Konrad Kellen, who combined it with being the sort of intelligent, handsome, charismatic, well-connected, cultured character who so enriched British and US life when the Germans were, um, undergoing an unfortunate and unwelcoming period in their history and now, sadly, enrich the obituary pages. It's an interesting piece, although I would add that being a good listener only got Kellen so far: being good at grabbing Kissinger's attention might have helped too.

The piece is illustrated with an unflattering picture of Gladwell, which was perhaps chosen to show that he can also listen very skilfully, in his case letting his eyebrows do most of the work.

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