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Listen More, Talk Less


Someone asked me recently about the best advice I received growing up, and I didn’t have to give it too much thought to come up with an answer. Throughout my life I’ve been described by many as ‘intense’ and it is a label I wear with pride — although it has caused my family to vow they will never play Monopoly or Scrabble with me again. I believe that my incisiveness and determination is what has brought me the success I have today, but the question wasn’t about my innate qualities, it was about advice; guidance offered to help me improve in the areas that I may not be as strong in. It was my father, a brilliant lawyer and pillar in the Miami community, who sai to me one day: “God gave you two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in the same proportion.”

I’ve always been a person to continuously seek knowledge, but it wasn’t until my father’s advice sunk in that I was able to comprehend how much easier it is to learn when you listen to understand rather than to respond. Psychologists who study communication have come to call this active listening, defined as the ability to give a subject your complete attention and making a conscious effort to comprehend. Think about breaking down the term itself: rather than passively taking in what is being communicated you are actively working to hear what is being said, including both verbal and non-verbal cues.

Active listening is a practice of being present. Our minds — especially those of us who have ones that tend to run a mile a minute — can have a tendency to wander back into the past or jump to the future in order to prepare what we will say next. An example of this practically everyone can relate to is when you are first being introduced to someone new. They tell you their name, but while they are doing so you begin to think about saying your name in response. It is only after the fact that you realize you haven’t actually retained their name at all, and must either ask for it again or attempt to maneuver the entire interaction without calling attention to the fact that you have forgotten it.

The good news is, I’ve come to find that active listening isn’t an innate ability. Like most things it is a skill that can be developed with hard work and dedication. By giving something your undivided attention, withholding judgment, and focusing on taking in information rather than how you will react to it, you open yourself up to a number of benefits that can flow throughout your personal and professional life.

Develop better professional relationships

When you become adept at active listening, you improve the quality of your professional relationships. Rather than being seen as someone who steamrolls to make sure their opinion is heard, active listening will make those you work with come to trust that their thoughts and opinions are being heard. They will also recognize that when you do talk, it is because you truly believe what you have to say is pertinent and important. When it comes to employees, making them feel heard and valued can inspire confidence, making them more likely to come to you with new ideas.

Understand issues and formulate better solutions

When you listen more and talk less, you are able to quietly take in as much information as possible. Rather than peppering a conversation with your own thoughts and opinions, active listening can allow you to gain an accurate view of a problem. This leads to developing a stronger and more comprehensive solution. Part of being a good leader is acknowledging that you aren’t always the smartest person in the room (in fact, if you’ve assembled your team well you shouldn’t be) and by giving your ear to those varied skill sets rather than talking just to hear your own voice you can become a better problem solver.

A better approach to conflict

Conflict, especially in the high-stakes world of business, is one of life’s inevitability. It is my belief that conflict is one of the most direct ways to reach a solution — rather than dancing around an issue and stalling in an attempt to avoid conflict, facing it for what it is can save a lot of time and energy in the long run. However, this theory is a moot point if active listening isn’t used by both parties from the get-go. It is natural for people to feel defensive when a conflict has arisen, but by listening and showing that you are trying to understand rather than talk over them and make sure your own voice is the loudest conflict can be brought to a quick and effective resolution. These resolutions are also more likely to be longer lasting while further encouraging the discourse upon which innovation thrives.

Improving productivity

Communication is often thought of as the way you speak to people, but listening is an aspect just as important, if not more so. From Lee Iacocca to Ernest Hemingway, people who accomplish great things will often say that they have done so by paying attention to what others are saying. Active listening is perhaps one of the purest ways to manage your time wisely — every interaction you have is more productive because you are finding value and getting the most out of each one. Wasted time is obvious in situations like playing games on your phone or checking your social media, but a less obvious culprit is having to ask people to repeat themselves or taking a longer time to develop trusting business relationships due to a lack of active listening.

How to talk less and listen more

I’ll be the first person to admit that talking less and listening more doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m headstrong and I want my voice to be heard, but over the years I have taken my father’s advice to heart and worked on keeping my mouth shut and ears open. These are a few ways I have developed my active listening skills that can easily be applied to any situation.

Take notes. I go into meetings with a pen and paper, and take notes to keep me quiet, and keep the others talking. The more I write, the more they talk, enhancing the speakers’ sense of importance, while keeping me quiet.

Make eye contact. Eye contact is one of the most effective ways that you can ensure you are actively listening. When you are looking someone in the eye, you non-verbally communicate that they have your full and undivided attention, and prevent yourself from other distractions in the room such as your computer or phone screen. Utilize eye contact as a tool to mentally screen out other distractions such as background noise, as well as potential mannerisms or affectations the person speaking may have, as well as your own thoughts and feelings.

Hold your tongue. When you interrupt someone mid-conversation, you send a number of messages, from “I’m more important than you” to “I don’t really care what you think.” The person you are interacting with is doing their best to use language to interpret the thoughts going on inside their brain, and this translation process is only further complicated by interruptions.

Ask questions for clarification and understanding. To be clear: listening more and talking less does not mean that you should not be speaking at all. Your thoughts and opinions are still a vital part of the communication process. However, by asking questions rather than interjecting, you both show that you have been fully comprehending what was being said to you and show that what the other person has said was valued by you.

Once it has been established that you fully understand what you were listening to, it’s (finally) your turn to talk.