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Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

by Lisa Nichols

There is an ancient proverb that says, “Understand this brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry”. 

What do you think that we communicate to others when we talk too much and listen too little? There could be several answers to this question – for instance:

  1. We are starved for attention.
  2. We have more nervous energy than we know what to do with.
  3. We simply like the sound of our own voice.
  4. We think our ideas and opinions are more important than what others think (I feel this is the one we must check ourselves on constantly.)

I am not sure who coined the following, but I do believe that it could not be more true – People may not remember what you said … but they will remember how you made them feel. One way to leave people with the right “feeling” is to show them you value them, their ideas and opinions by actively listening. This takes a genuine posture of humility. One of my favorite definitions of humility is from the great author and theologian, C.S. Lewis.  Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is just thinking of yourself less.” There is a big difference between the two. When it comes to communication, it is vital to think of ourselves less. 

I’m not sure whether you’ve had a similar experience, but have you ever had someone call to check in and proceed to only talk about themselves? In fact, they never even stop to take a breath and ask you how things are with you? I used to have someone in my life where this was always the case. I would leave each conversation feeling worse than before the conversation even started. We rarely talk these days, but I hope they have learned a few things about the art of communication and listening by now. 

Recently, someone said to me that Ally makes them feel like they are the most important person in the room when she is around them – do you know why?  It’s because she “sees” them. She is fully present when she is with them. I wish I could get into that brain of hers and really understand what is going on when she interacts with other people. I would suspect that when the other person is talking, that she is not dreaming up what she is going to say next. She hears them and is totally engaged when they are speaking. When appropriate, she will voice whatever it is that she wants to say. This is one way we can truly esteem others more than ourselves. We push the pause button on our own voices and choose to be “more interested” rather than “being interesting”.

Whether you’re at work, in a board meeting, with a client or prospective client, or with family or friends, purposefully and intentionally work on listening more and speaking less. Helpful tip: asking thoughtful questions is a great starting point. I can tell you – this is a hard one for me! I often process my own thoughts by speaking my words out loud to another human being (we lovingly refer to this as “ideation” at Technology Partners). I never lack for words and enjoy talking in general, but I am going to work on making sure that fewer words have more meaning. 

I don’t want to mislead you in thinking that Ally is perfect in this area. I have a funny story about her interrupting us a long time ago that I may share in another blog in the future, but for now, you will just have to be satisfied with fewer words.