The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.
I need to make it clear from the start: I love people who talk a lot. For example, not long ago I asked a friend where she was from. Ten minutes later, I was still listening to an interesting story involving a husband, children, the sale of a business, and other details. And I enjoyed every bit.
Then there are those who don’t say much, but neither do they ask much. They no doubt have a rich thought life, but we are not privileged to know much of it.
This, though, is written in praise of that small, somewhat sneaky group who are always the ones asking about you: Did you do anything interesting this weekend? Where do your children live? Are your parents still alive? What do you do in your spare time?
I describe this group as sneaky because most are so good at this that some may not even notice what they are doing. There’s an unselfishness about these people, and one has the sense their curiosity about you is made possible by their strength of character.
I have one friend, Sarah, who will always, always turn the conversation toward you. And because I know she is a tireless legal advocate for others who may not have a voice, my personal interactions with her seem entirely consistent with who she is.
Another friend, Jamie, is a master at soliciting your opinions and thoughts. Watch her at most gatherings and she will likely be listening to someone, and that person is likely to feel loved because someone cares what he or she has to say.
Of the various principles espoused by Dale Carnegie in his work, probably none was more fundamental than the idea that by showing interest in others, you gain their trust. “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,” he said.
It’s important to note, however, that this dynamic is not simply an exercise in altruism. You do, in fact, learn more by listening than by talking.
I asked a friend how it came to be that she became one of these people. She told me that she had moved 16 times before she graduated from high school. She figured out that, as the new kid, if she were going to make friends, she would need to be reaching out to others.
In our society, it often seems like the most self-absorbed become celebrities. Perhaps it’s even necessary that one have a large dose of ego to succeed in certain fields — politics comes to mind.
But when you want to feel connected to another human being, when you need to be appreciated for who you are, having someone show their interest in you is to feel loved. There are multiple ways to do that — learning and using someone’s name, giving sincere compliments, acknowledging special events in someone’s life, encouraging someone to reach her goals. Above all, though, listening is sweet nectar to the soul.