“Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.”
Epictetus was known for his clever wit and pithy sayings, and here he’s giving us some very good advice of how we should handle ourselves in any social situation. We’ve all been around people that dominate conversations, and maybe we’ve been that person.
As I’ve mentioned before on this podcast, I used to talk over people in conversations all the time. While mine was born out of insecurity and wanting people to like me, learning how to listen to others brings many benefits.
Let me put it this way, if you’re talking all the time how are you going to learn anything?
As Stoics we should strive to be consummate learners. We should view ourselves always as students of life, and we can always learn something from everyone. And because we also strive to be in control of ourselves, by taking our time, listening and observing, we can be sure that what we have to say is well thought out, rather than simply spitting out the first thing that comes to mind. And I know that some us are probably more wired to be a bit talkative. And if that’s who you are, that’s perfectly okay. But as someone that is also wired that way, learning how to listen better pays off amazing dividends and even making small steps in that direction is well worth the effort.
The thing is, people also feel more connected to you when they feel like you’ve heard and understood them. They notice when you’re more focused on what you want to say next than actually paying attention to them. Also, people like to talk about themselves, and if you are open to listening you’d be surprised what people will share with you, and the more you know about a person, the more connected you feel with them. Who knows, maybe you share some common interests that you would have never know about if you’d been too busy talking.
If we’re too busy trying to show off, we’re not paying attention to what’s going around us. The people that I’ve seen that seem pretty wise to me, usually take the time to assess a situation, to observe and to see what they notice. They’re not in rush to show how much they know, but they take their time and are curious to see if their hunches about their observations play out. Because they put in the effort to read situations better, it’s like they have a sixth sense about people which comes in very useful in all kinds of ways.
Remember, taking time to be observant, for some of us, is not always easy. It takes some humility to recognize that just because we think something doesn’t mean it has to said out loud. By taking time to truly listen to others and focus on what they have to share, we can be more connected with others, practice being more observant in our lives in general, and we might even learn something new.