100 (Or So) Ways to Succeed #102:

Purposefully Practice Listening
(And "Hearing")

I'm dealing with a thorny problem. Even thought of calling my shrink—he's my "life coach" as much as my esteemed mental health advisor.

In the end I didn't call him. And you can thank crosstown Manhattan Christmas traffic for that.

I inveterately chat with cabbies—about life, not the weather. This driver-advisor-to-be had been around the circuit a couple of times, as, indeed, I have as well. I laid out my issue pretty damn directly. All issues are the same—in the end, relationship issues (see above). His thoughts were "obvious" (all useful thoughts are, in retrospect) and really turned my thinking on its ear.

On the one hand, I was making idle chatter, as I am wont to do; on the other hand, I really wanted to get his reaction. His take on human interaction is likely to be more profound than mine—given his natural laboratory. I'm almost loath to admit it, though I don't know why, but I actually jotted a couple of notes on my Amtrak ticket stub while he was talking. I gave him a healthy Christmas tip, but the fact is that his advice was priceless— or at least a lot cheaper than my psychiatrist's invoice.

In the last couple of weeks, I've talked about Dave Isay's book, Listening Is an Act of Love, and cool friend Matthew Kelly's The Dream Manager. Both are books about stories and listening and hearing. As is my little "Manhattan Cabbie's Tale." If relationships are "everything" (they are), then listening-hearing-story collecting is Tool #1. Stephen Covey and others are wonderful instructors on this topic. I will not attempt to copy them. My suggestion is simpler: During this holiday season, you'll likely go to cocktail parties, open presents, attend family dinners. While not aiming to spoil your spontaneity, I'd suggest that each of these occasions is an opportunity to purposefully practice listening-hearing-story collecting. I have no tricks, except to say tune deliberately into the process. If you want to give yourself an exam, at the end of the party or whatever, review what you heard-learned that was new about an old friend; I learn new stuff about 20-year friends when I really work on my listening-hearing. And keep in mind, as lodestar, the words from Dale Carnegie: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."