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Home » Listening to People with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Listening to People with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    We can learn a lot about communicating and connecting from Dr. Martin Luther King.

    You can hear his speech here, and I urge you to listen to him versus me. If you have more than 16 minutes, then yes, I think we can learn how to be better communicators from Dr. King. But if you only have a few minutes today to think about Dr. King, then listen to his speech, soak it in, and be inspired.

    I hope everyone knows that Dr. King was a fantastic speaker. His name, his image, they immediately conjure up memories of his voice crying out to two hundred and fifty thousand people, “I have a dream.” I am, of course, too young to have been there, but I wish I had been able to see him in person.

    His cadence started out slow, his voice soft in the crowd; as the public leaned forward to hear more, the rhythm quickened, as did the volume. And then like the wave of a great roller coaster, he would slow again, drawing the crowd in a little more, urging them to listen a little harder.

    Growing up seeing people on speeches and teleprompters, I didn’t realize until a teacher pointed out that he didn’t have notes for his famous speech. Dr. Martin Luther King stood in front of an estimated crowd of 250,000 people and gave a sixteen-minute speech he hadn’t so much as memorized as internalized. It was authentic, it came from his heart, and as his speech continued, the pace grew faster, the voice louder, the passion moving from the past to his dreams for the future. He carries the crowd with him, their anticipation building. And the end, the soundbite replayed millions of times, was like a great orchestra finale. We can learn so much from Dr. King about being a better person, a better citizen, and a better communicator.

    A great communicator starts with curiosity, curiously causes us to listen, ask questions and listen even more. Here, John Blake talks about how Dr. King listened to people. During Dr. King’s speech in Washington, Mahalia Jackson cried out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream.” Imagine had he not listened to her? Imagine he had not listened to Maria Wright Edelman, who encouraged Dr. King to march on Washington.

    It is because Dr. King was such a great listener, meeting with leaders from around the world, that he was able to deliver speeches that were authentic to his audience. This authenticity in his sermons and conversations enabled him to connect with people. When you can connect, you enable people to share their ideas with you, opening yourself up to grow, to improve, and in his case, become a great leader.

    Imagine these two conversations:

    “I like dogs”

    “Really? Why?”

    “I like dogs”

    “Oh wow, really? What’s your favorite thing about dogs?”

    Which conversation encourages the friend to keep talking, to keep sharing? Which one would shut down the conversation making the other person defensive and on guard? We encourage you all to lead your conversations with curiosity. Questions aren’t enough; questions can shut people down. But showing that you are curious and open to hearing people’s opinions will encourage those around you to express their ideas with you, and continue the conversation.

    Dr. King listened to his mentor on becoming a minister who believed in peaceful protests, his friends on where he should lead his protesters, and his wife, who was his partner in social change. My favorite line that I read today:

    “It’s always good to remember King’s speeches, but we should also remember this:
    He didn’t just talk his way to greatness.
    He listened his way to it as well.”

    Today I remember Dr. Martin Luther King, and I will try to listen more. I hope your celebration of Dr. King helps you think about the connections you’d like to make.