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How succesful are you at listening?

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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I had a telephone call the first business day after Christmas. The caller was seeking to find a publication he had seen four or five years ago. He couldn’t recall the name. He described it as best he could.

I told him that it was not something we published, and in any case it no longer existed. Perhaps he would be interested in one of our periodicals?

“Did I ask for that?” he demanded. “That’s the trouble with you people, you don’t listen,” he said and slammed down the phone.

 Aside from feeling scalded, I began to reflect on the charge: You don’t listen.

Listening has been a growing activity in every walk of life. Feedback is constantly being sought. In numismatics, if you take Numismatic News as an example, the space devoted to reader feedback has increased over the years.

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When I first began reading Numismatic News in 1969, a major reason, if not the main reason, I subscribed was because I wanted to know what other collectors were thinking and I liked what I found among the letters to the editor. They were obviously written by real people with real thoughts and a willingness to share their opinions. I subscribed.

Others apparently feel the way I do because the space devoted to letters grows and grows. A “Viewpoint” column was added in the 1980s. I was worried at the time the decision was made. How could we possibly fill that space 52 times a year I asked in all seriousness when we first considered adding “Viewpoint?”

I should have been more like Alfred E. Newman. What, me worry?

It was reader input that supplied “Viewpoint” from the first and continues to do so. Sure, I ask for a piece now and again if I feel something needs mentioning, but most of the time “Viewpoint” has taken on a lively life of its own.

With the arrival of the Internet and Web pages and e-newsletters, weekly polls became possible and every week reader responses fill the Buzz section of the paper. Some weeks the level of response is more. Some weeks it is less. Always, though, there is something interesting being expressed by readers beyond the simple yes and no of the poll question.

Readers also send questions to the “Coin Clinic” column. When I first read it, it was written by Clem Bailey. He had a great sense of humor. I first read Alan Herbert, the current Clinic columnist, when he wrote the “Odd Corner” error column. That was another forum for reader input. Ken Potter covers errors nowadays.

The common thread of all of these parts of the paper is reader input.

I have found that the more I listen, the more I learn. But do I listen enough? That’s a good question. Does anyone listen enough? We can all ask ourselves that. As long as we do, we know we are alive, learning and having a good time doing it.

Seeking reader input is half the equation. The other half is listening, or trying to understand what is being said, or written. I might fail at listening, but it certainly is not from lack of trying.

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