An intelligence office is nothing if he has lost his will to listen, and George Smiley – plump, troubled, cuckolded, unassuming indefatigable George, forever polishing his spectacles on the lining of his tie, puffing to himself and sighing in his perennial distraction – was the best listener of all.
I shall remember all my life the compelling power of his patience. Smiley was listening as only Smiley can, eyes half closed, chins sunk into his neck. I thought I was telling him everything I knew. Perhaps he thought I was too, though I doubt it, for he understood far better than I the levels of self-deception that are the means of our survival. Despite the disturbing tendency of his questions, I was beginning to feel a great need to talk to him.
Smiley could listen with his hooded, sleepy eyes; he could listen by the very inclination of his tubby body, by his stillness and his understanding smile. He could listened because with one exception, which was Ann, his wife, he expected nothing of his fellow souls, criticized nothing, condoned the worst of you long before you had revealed it. He could listen better than a microphone because his mind lit at once upon the essentials; he seemed able to spot them before he knew where they were leading.
The surest knowledge we have of one another comes from instinct.
– extracted from The Secret Pilgrim by John Le Carré