232 Comments

Great essay! I would add one thing to great listener and that is the skill of being able to draw people out with intelligent questions. This helps you be a listener and grows out of an important but rare quality: genuine interest in other people. I've witnessed it in some great journalists and in some people who were just great conversationalists.

Expand full comment

I have a friend in Colorado I used to lunch with frequently. He did nothing but ask me questions. It’s not that I’m this brilliant guy...this was just his way of conversation. I learned quite a bit about both of us.

Expand full comment

I had a friend like that too. Problem was, it was always just questions from him, it never ran both ways. It felt like you were in a never ending interview. I knew him for about 10 years and don't feel like I ever really got to know him.

Expand full comment

Try this vantage point. Adam Mastroianni talks about what he calls Givers and Takers. Not sure I like the monikers, but the perspective is helpful. I'm a question asker, but I've learned to also make statements to mirror my conversation partner. Listening well means also learning how to speak in a way your partner can appreciate and understand.

https://experimentalhistory.substack.com/p/good-conversations-have-lots-of-doorknobs?utm_campaign=mb&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=morning_brew

Expand full comment

Interesting read. As for the guy I knew, there was almost universal agreement among many friends that although we all like him enormously, none of us really knew what lied beneath. He and his wife were in long term counselling because of communication issues.

Expand full comment

You definitely failed their test. No, let me rephrase that: Your actions shaped how they perceive you. I am such a person, and questioning me the same way I do just shows you're equally invested and interested in the interaction, plus you care.

Expand full comment

I don't know - I made one of those friends too. He was always asking me questions about me, but whenever I tried to ask him questions, he always managed to turn what should have been his answers into new questions to me. Eventually I tired of this routine and withdrew. Mind you, he seemed not to go out of his way to engage me after that either. Perhaps if asked he'd say that all I did was talk about myself.

Expand full comment

Same with the guy I knew. You could not get him to answer a question with any kind of deep answer.

Expand full comment

As I said, it never ran both ways. You could ask him as many questions as you liked, but there was never anything approaching an extended or revealing answer. He was a lovely guy, but I never felt as if I knew who he really was.

Expand full comment

I have this same problem too..when I'm having conversations I ask too many questions. How do you do yours

Expand full comment

Yes! If you are really listening there will be follow up questions and sometimes the unexpected question completely changes the direction and outcome of the conversation or interview.

Expand full comment

Listening: Crucial.

Expand full comment

I cannot stress this enough and I’m learning to be much better at it. Wag more, bark less.

Expand full comment

Great point, Christopher. I would term that "active listening." Asking great questions shows genuine interest and makes the speaker feel understood and appreciated.

Expand full comment

First rate yet again Ted. You reminded of something Fred Eaglesmith said at a solo concert a decade ago: “Integrity is what you’ve got when nobody’s looking.”

Expand full comment

That's what I tell my kids all the time--it's so true!

Expand full comment

Boy is that a mouthful!

Expand full comment

That is great. I really Love what you say about Integrity - & SO true

Expand full comment

❤ Fred Eaglesmith.

Expand full comment

Exactly!

Expand full comment

Powerful quote (and without wanting to get too meta, sometimes attributed to C S Lewis but apparently rejected and instead attributable to Charles Marshall in Shattering The Glass Slipper https://www.cslewis.org/aboutus/faq/quotes-misattributed/ )

Expand full comment

I haven’t thought of Fred Eaglesmith in ages! Wow!

Expand full comment
Jan 18, 2023·edited Jan 18, 2023

Great advice. I have a suggestion, too, although I'm not in charge here. :). One of my techniques as a hiring manager was to get the interviewee to drive when we went to lunch. You can tell a lot about a person by watching how they drive a car.

Expand full comment

If someone were to devolve into a fit of road rage, okay yes, that tells you something. But driving is a physical skill, and some very intelligent, good people are just not good at it. In the same way that I’m terrible at three point shots in basketball.

There’s also a regional/location aspect.

A very good friend of mine, a person whom I love and trust is a terrible driver.

Expand full comment

I think it's safe to say that most people could distinguish a poor driver from a careless one.

Expand full comment

I just don’t see the value in it as an evaluation tool given the randomness of driving, but to each their own.

You may be in a car with someone who has road rage, and yet never know it unless a situation comes along and triggers them.

Expand full comment
Jan 19, 2023·edited Jan 19, 2023

I see how that might make driving a poor test for self-control, but I think a careless driver would be careless in most traffic situations - if not simply careless in general.

Expand full comment

Also, the road may be where they focus their rage entirely. It may be an outlet that keeps that rage at bay in their home and work life.

Expand full comment

I become a totally different person when I drive. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde contrast.

Expand full comment

I didn't do well in several of the areas mentioned when I was younger, but I aged & grew up a bit. It took maybe a bit longer than others.

But your description of your driving was me -exactly. I am (so far) still kicking, but it may be due to learning from various dangerous driving situations I made it through. I still shudder at a few of them when I was younger.

Expand full comment

I think most accidents are avoided courtesy of the good driving of others.

Expand full comment

Yes age and experience and near catastrophes have mellowed me some as well. Glad we both made it through.

Expand full comment

I drive like a NY cabbie so I’m pretty sure that the interviewer would have been shaken and horrified!

Expand full comment

Long ago and far away, I attended a sales seminar where the consultant introduced his wife and said, "See what kind of taste I have?" An attendee immediately shot back, "Yes, but what kind of taste does SHE have?"

Expand full comment

That's very relevant for me. It’s common for me to like one half of a couple and dislike the other. The people a meet are older with long term relationships, and I often wonder just what the attraction is (or was) between the couples I meet, so using the partner's personality to try to judge character of either one wouldn't work well for me.

Probably just my perspective, but it seems like such a common experience that I don't trust that bit of character reading advice. Perhaps just putting up with an obnoxious personality for years shows character...

Expand full comment

Your final sentence could do without 'perhaps'. In a doco about the Beatle George Harrison, his lovely widow Olivia recounts a story where she and George are at a dinner party, and an older, wiser woman at the table is asked, "What's the secret of a long marriage?" Her answer is, "Don't get divorced." Putting up with stuff gets you further down the road than being a jerk.

Expand full comment

When two good listeners get together and converse there are usually very few quiet moments.

One subject leads onto another as each listener responds to the other.

Expand full comment

Excellent advice, and the essay includes one of my favorite (and oft-used words): agita. The cleaning person who stands outside the ER room with her/his cart gets the same amount of respect from me as the Doctor does. So does the guard who screens people, and puts up with SO much hostility. He has probably saved my life. The great George Mraz had some interesting things to say about accommodating mistakes when I interviewed him years ago. Bravo, Ted.

Expand full comment

Oh! How I love this and agree....had lots of mostly positive experiences working in an inpatient hospice facility for many years,

Expand full comment

If I am to be judged by my lovely wife of 23 years, I will be highly overrated ❤️😀

Expand full comment

That's beautiful.

Expand full comment
founding

I'm thinking you probably already know this, but #5 is what Jung called our "shadow" figure - exactly as you say, stuff in ourselves we don't like (repress/suppress) we see clearly in others. And it seems never to end! I'm in my 70's and am still catching myself doing it and as you say, it's "sometimes painful". Have used #2 all my life, and am amazed people can't see what a horrible impression they make when they do it. It's the total lack of insight as well as the nasty behavior that registers.

Expand full comment

The phrase I’ve always heard is, “spot it, you got it.”

Expand full comment

don’t forget “whoever smelled it...dealt it”

Expand full comment
founding

Never heard that - it's great

Expand full comment

I’ve learned all eight of these metrics the hard way. And I played in a rock band with a serial killer in high school.

Expand full comment

Very interesting. I played & traveled in a Rock Band when 19 that had a drummer who, on a weekend home ripped off the entire band for our recent Pay, a few Musical Instruments, our Band van & various misc items. He then dissapeared. A while later we heard that he was wanted for murder back East. He obviously messed with the wrong folks because we read in the paper he had been murdered by a Biker gang in another city.

I learned several things through all of this.

Expand full comment

Wow! Tough experience. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we all learn from experience . Music is affected by all the forces at work in society. Only some really rise above. Trust our capes.

https://youtu.be/j4q-Q6LSfuI

Expand full comment

Hard lessons to say the least!

Expand full comment

Great article. I'll share one thing a dear mentor told me a long time ago. He said that if I could not recognize when I was lying to myself, I would never be able to recognize when someone else was lying to me. That was the beginning of my practicing frank self honesty. And it was true. In seeing the ways I lied to myself, I became aware of how people were lying to themselves to me as well.

Expand full comment

No. 5: I don't know what age I was, but at some point I realized that if a habit of any of my family members aggravated me, there was a 99% chance I had the same habit and had better start working on it.

Once I worked for a senior VP whose entire interview with me involved where we each went on vacation and what we did. Nothing about my work history. He was the best boss I ever had.

Listening: Once I was at a nonprofit board meeting and two women were rapidly talking in each other's faces at the same time. Neither one of them shut up to give the other one a turn, but just kept talking in the other one's face. I thought, "These women aren't listening to each other. Neither of them could possibly know what the other said." After they got done, they each proceeded with full knowledge of the what the other one said. How was this possible? Then I remembered they were both professional simultaneous interpreters. They were trained and accustomed to fully listening and fully talking at the same time.

Expand full comment

This article may be a bit of a modulation from the HB key, but these insights are helpful to me as a business owner. Like your CEO friend, I interview people from the gut. My former business partner insisted on using numbered rubrics that assessed skills. On average my hires stayed three times longer in the company and performed much better, generally. I agree it's very important to know a person's character.

One of the best experiences I ever had was becoming an Eagle Scout. Even though it happened when I was in junior high school, I do think it molded me indelibly, more than many other experiences I had later as an adult. Because that experience continues to inform my character and decision making, anecdotally I'm inclined to believe your claim--which I've heard elsewhere from psychologists--that we are unlikely to change much after settling into our adult lives.

There's some biological science to back this up, and I've heard that practicing an instrument (or learning a new one) can lead to changes in the brain. I wonder if learning a new instrument, or learning to improvise in a group setting might also improve character? Maybe all adults should "learn to play with others."

Expand full comment

I don't know....I worked as an orchestra cellist for many years and some of the best players were some of the worst people I've ever known.

Expand full comment

Agree. I exited orchestral music as a string player when I detected the regimental and hierarchical nature of the deal. Some of those who come from orchestral backgrounds here in Nashville are the least talented at creative cooperative and inspired productions. In my comment ai should have specified singer songwriter, troubadour musicians. They are frequently inspired by interdependence and not ruthless control. Those are the type I look for and treasure.

Expand full comment

Orchestra culture can be really toxic. It was heartbreaking when I realised that I loved being a musician, but hated going to work. Sadly, back in the early 1990s there was no youtube, no alternative avenues to forge your own path, so I changed direction completely.

Expand full comment

Yes different times offer entirely different challenges and opportunities. One of my daughters stopped ballet dancing due to similar toxicities.

Expand full comment

Ballet is even worse than music. Not only is their technique and artistry constantly under critical scrutiny, but their bodies are as well. I used to play in the ballet orchestra and the dancers lived on cigarettes and chocolate bars. You'd see them in the green room choosing 3 lettuce leaves and half a tomato for dinner, then outside they'd be having a cigarette and eating a chocolate bar in secret.

Expand full comment

It is bad. Agree. Didn’t see the food abuse in my daughter but lots of other stresses on the dancers as a whole.

Expand full comment

I’ve heard this so many times!

Expand full comment
Jan 18, 2023·edited Jan 18, 2023

Like you, Ted, I have paid dearly for being naive enough to trust people at their word. I have learned to assess people in many of the ways that you have. The one that stood out to me is "how people spend their time and money". I've always loathed people who lack generosity (of spirit or money. I've always been wary of the charmer, the social profligate who is overly familiar on first meeting, but I've never connected financial profligacy with deeper character flaws. I'll be on the lookout now.

Expand full comment

Useful and insightful Ted. Speaking of CG Jung, he once had a male patient that he could not analyze since after many sessions he found nothing amiss. It was only when the analysand's spouse came into his office that he realized where all the neurosis had taken root. The projection of one's shadow side onto others is another important point that you make. So is the treatment of service workers. I have been out with people who treat service workers like their personal servants. Good listeners not only listen to what is being said but what is not being said too. They seem to use their intuition more. I have to disagree a bit with the 20 year old observation. I agree that much of our character is formed prior to the age of 20. We can undergo significant change in the second half of life, either voluntarily or through the force of nature. In my case it was the latter.

Expand full comment

Great advice. The partner thing is gold.

Expand full comment

Genuinely asking how is it so. More than 50% marriages end in divorce and portion of remaining are in an unhappy marriage. In most cases individual himself /herself don't know what they are looking in partner and in almost every case humans change over time

Partner you think you have married is different person after few yrs in marriage

Expand full comment

I was lucky to find myself a great wife, and she’s happy with me, too. However, I can easily imagine myself ending up in an unsuccessful, unhappy marriage. It’s a mystery.

Expand full comment

So true dude... mystery indeed... sounds like you’re the deservin type if I may be so bold

Expand full comment

Add to that the people who don’t know the kind of partner best for them. Think of all the people who repeatedly enter into abusive relationships. Ted could probably fire off a list of songs on this theme, starting with “You Always Hurt the One You Love.”

Expand full comment

Well I'm still a work in progress after all these years. I know I fail some of these at times , even so.

Expand full comment

We are all works in progress.

Expand full comment