The first book I ever read was “Go, Dog, Go!” by P.D. Eastman. My mom would read it with me over and over until, one day, I could read it by myself. It wasn’t long before reading became my primary hobby, transporting me from the fictional worlds of Mossflower Woods to the blood-soaked battlegrounds of the Civil War. I still read at least a few hours every day, split between articles, blogs, and books (but also reddit).
So naturally I was intrigued when I stumbled upon a Harvard Business Review excerpt of Peter Drucker’s “Managing Oneself”, which began:
The first thing to know is whether you are a reader or a listener. Far too few people even know that there are readers and listeners and that people are rarely both. Even fewer know which of the two they themselves are.
Drucker was right – I had no idea that there were preferences or aptitudes when it came to information absorption. As a reader, I categorized people as good and bad readers. But then I looked around and realized that numerous people I knew were likely listeners.1 For example, my long-time boss. I noticed that he was much more likely to remember something I told him in person rather than via email. From then on, I made sure to drop by his desk when I had something important to convey.
How else can readers and listeners help each other? When my listener friends want to share podcast knowledge with me, they’ll link the transcript or type out a short summary if none exists.2 Conversely, if I really want to share an article with my listener girlfriend, I’ll read it out loud to her.
Finally, I’d caution my fellow readers against feeling superior to listeners. Yes, I think reading is better for deep understanding thanks to the ease with which one can navigate a text as opposed to a recording. Psychology professor Daniel Willingham explained that “about 10 to 15% of eye movements during reading are actually regressive – meaning [the eyes are] going back and re-checking.” David Daniel, another psychology professor, added that it’s easier to find where you left off on a page rather than a recording when your mind inevitably wanders.3
However, as a reader, oral debates have never been my forte. I imagine that listeners have a much easier time at parsing and responding to spoken logical arguments than I do. This is probably why Drucker wrote, “Yet as a senator, [Lyndon] Johnson had been superb; for parliamentarians have to be, above all, listeners.” And guess what, people have been talking to each other long before anyone wrote anything down.
What about you? Are you a reader or a listener? How do you know? Which of your friends and colleagues are readers versus listeners?
1 “Audiobook sales have doubled in the last five years while print and e-book sales are flat.” – New York Times, 2018
2 Services like otter.ai can also help by transcribing audio into the written word.
3 Heid, Markham. “Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say.” Time, Time, 6 Sept. 2018, time.com/5388681/audiobooks-reading-books/.