How to Speak How to Listen, by Mortimer Adler

A Modern Philosopher’s Take On The Art Of Communication

Mortimer Adler is the author of one of my favourite books — ‘How To Read A Book,’ which is the ultimate guide in learning how to read in such a way that you extract the full value of the text. Whether books of poetry, science, philosophy, history or mathematics; stories, tragedies, fairytales or instructional books, he shows step-by-step how to get more out of your reading by teaching you how to: ask the right questions, of the author and of yourself; understand what is being said, how and why; focus only on the important points, and therefore not waste time; to critique, and why its important; to take notes; speed reading, slow reading and much more. What’s great is that he ends the book with a chapter on each of the different subject areas (poetry, science, history, etc), and explains how each one requires a different sort of mindset — questions, reading speed, critique, and so on. It is probably the most comprehensive, analytical and practical book ever written about reading.

In ‘How to Speak How To Listen,’ Adler has applied his methodology, techniques and meticulous attention to detail to the art of communication — namely, conversation. He discusses the different types of conversation; why it’s fundamental to our existence; how to do it well, and how not to; when one type should take priority over another; it’s role in teaching and education; and the importance of listening, and why it’s a lost art. Again, he breaks each idea down into logical, well thought-out prose; and gives step-by-step instructions backed up by clear examples, that you can immediately apply to your conversations.

Adler’s references to the ancient greeks can at times be off-putting, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the topic; so too can his repetitive, almost monotonous tone that, at times, can get annoying. Just gloss-over or skip these parts — I did; having read a couple of books on this topic, I suspect that because I’m familiar with much of what he says, I didn’t feel the need to strain through samey arguments.

If you’re just getting started on the topic, want to become a better communicator, or are unfamiliar with Adler’s ideas and want an introduction to his work, this read is a good place to start. On the other hand, if you’re a skilled communicator, have read a few other books on the topic, or have no patience for methodical and repetitive writing, you may want to pass.

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