Dale Carnegie offers a “graduate course” in human relations in his famous book:
After one of our debriefs with our students at Youth Alpha, I shared a story from Carnegie’s book. I wanted to give them an example of what it looks like to be a good listener in the small group discussions they are leading and the effect that has on those being listened to.
Six Ways to Make People Like You: An Easy Way to Become a Good Conversationalist
“I met a distinguished botanist at a dinner party given by a New York book publisher. I had never talked with a botanist before, and I found him fascinating. I literally sat on the edge of my chair and listened while he spoke of exotic plants and experiments in developing new forms of plant life and indoor gardens (and even told me astonishing facts about the humble potato). I had a small indoor garden of my own–and he was good enough to tell me how to solve some of my problems.
“As I said, we were at a dinner party. There must have been a dozen other guests, but I violated all the canons of courtesy, ignored everyone else, and talked for hours to the botanist.
“Midnight came. I said good night to everyone and departed. The botanist then turned to our host and paid me several flattering compliments. I was ‘most stimulating.’ I was this and I was that, and he ended by saying I was a ‘most interesting conversationalist.’
“An interesting conversationalist? Why, I had said hardly anything at all. I couldn’t have said anything if I had wanted changing the subject, for I didn’t know any more about botany than I knew about the anatomy of a penguin. But I had done this: I had listened intently. I had listened because I was genuinely interested. And he felt it. Naturally that pleased him. That kind of listening is one of the highest compliments we can pay anyone…
“…I told him that I had been immensely entertained and instructed–and I had. I told him I wished I had his knowledge–and I did. I told him that I should love to wander the fields with him–and I have. I told him I must see him again–and I did.
“And so I had him thinking of me as a good conversationalist when, in reality, I had been merely a good listener and had encouraged him to talk” (p. 81).
Carnegie concludes the chapter:
“If you want to know how to make people shun you and laugh at you behind your back and even despise you, here is the recipe: Never listen to anyone for long. Talk incessantly about yourself. If you have an idea while the other person is talking, don’t wait for him or her to finish: bust right in and interrupt in the middle of a sentence.
“So if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems” (p. 88).