I was never one to swoon over Jackie Kennedy. For all the sweetness of the Camelot myth, the realities that jumped from old newsreels—the reserved brunette shyly smiling at her husband, running after the babies and standing for photo ops defined by pastel dresses and drapes—made Jackie seem, well... weak. And what was with that voice? Even as she matured into a powerful dowager, Jackie didn't seem to have much to say, and when she did, it trickled out in a voice barely above a whisper. When I'd see her, I'd think, Give me a woman who knows how to-roar.
Then my friend, a Washington journalist who once covered the Kennedys, explained that I had missed the point—and Jackie's power. He recalled spending an afternoon with the first lady as she showed him the refurbished White House. "The whisper meant you had to lean in and listen closely," he said. He found her not so much charming as calculated. By the end of the visit, he realized he'd put more weight on her every word than he did on the blowsy talk that rushed from the mouths of many politicians on the Hill.
That's why I recently became intrigued with the idea of trying Jackie's way. What if I stopped shooting off words like buckshot and started really listening? For a weekend, I decided to open my ears by closing my mouth—well, sort of.
I couldn't fathom getting through a day without saying something, so I opted for modified silence. I sent myself on what Hillary Rodham Clinton would call a listening campaign. When with others, I would focus on their stories and opinions while staying quiet about my own. Given that I'd been doing a lot of talking at work, I was ready for the lessons a little listening could teach me.
Next: The first night of the listening experiment