“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”―Ernest Hemingway
I strolled into the conference room on the 21st floor of a high-rise office building in downtown Dallas. It was a common occurrence: the mid-afternoon meetings to discuss new products and new ways of marketing them. As the rookie partnership marketing executive for a global entertainment giant, there was nothing I loved more than ideas that would be profitable and fun. And I had great confidence in the ideas I shared. Only a few were ever fully vetted and brought to life, but that didn’t bother me. What mattered was that I had a place – and a voice – at the table.
On this particular afternoon, the goal was to find ways to bundle products together to create a special “family night at the movies.” I came to the table with notes prepared, and within five minutes was sharing my thoughts. In fact, I was so busy talking that I didn’t notice three people having a side discussion without me and the organizer of the meeting checking his watch repeatedly. He smiled when I finished, and said, “Unless someone else has anything to say, I think we’re done here. Great job, folks. We’ll pick this up later – thanks!”
As my boss and I walked out together, she turned to me and said, “Come into my office for a minute so we can debrief.” What she shared there is something I wish I had known at 25 rather than having to learn the hard way years later.
“I’m so glad to have you on the team,” she said. “You are creative and have a great instinct for things that will work. There’s only one thing that’s missing – one thing you need to learn to do.”
“You need to shut up.”
I stared at her, dumbfounded and embarrassed. She laughed. “Trust me, it’s a good thing. Here’s what I want you to do in our next meeting – unless someone asks a question directly to you, don’t say a word until the last five minutes. Just take everything in.”
I’ll be honest – I had always considered myself a great listener, a quick study, a gal who could size up a room and determine needs with lightning speed.
But what I learned in that next meeting changed not only the way I participated in idea sessions – it transformed my leadership style.
“Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights” (Proverbs 18:15 MSG).
Steven Covey, author of the best-selling 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” For years, my listening focused on gathering just enough information to set the stage for my next piece of the conversation. And to be perfectly honest, I was often commended by those who viewed speed as a positive quality. Certainly, it is good for a dialogue to progress. But quality communication is layered and nuanced. Challenges within an organization are layered and nuanced too.
As a leader, when we shut up and listen, we are better able to understand all that is being said and expressed around us.
And when we listen, powerful things happen.
1. Listening leads to credibility.
When we shut up and listen as leaders, we affirm those who are placed in our care. We elevate the morale of those around us. And when we extend credibility to others, our credibility is raised as well.
2. Listening leads to connection.
When we shut up and listen as leaders, our questions and conversations become more focused, dig deeper, and get to the heart of both spoken and unspoken needs.
3. Listening leads to creativity.
When we shut up and listen as leaders, we learn. And that learning sparks better ideas and solutions – ideas that are purposeful and meet the needs of not only an organization but the people in it.
4. Listening leads to collaboration.
When we shut up and listen as leaders, we give space for the creativity of others. Strengths and talents are given opportunity to shine as ideas emerge that are “ours” rather than “mine.”
5. Listening leads to community.
When we shut up and listen as leaders, we create an environment where others learn to shut up and listen as well. Connection, creativity, and collaboration thrives. Loyalty grows. Listening opens the door to purposeful employee mentorship and development. Listening opens the door to effectual conflict resolution. Listening opens the door to partnership. Listening opens the door to God’s direction, guidance, and leadership.
Yes, when we shut up and listen, powerful things happen.