Listen More, Talk Less
There’s no doubt that a lot of leaders like to talk. But great leaders know that one of the keys to effective leadership is actually listening more and talking less. If you’re finding yourself doing most of the talking with your direct reports or at meetings, maybe it’s time for a change. Piping down and practicing the 80/20 rule (listening 80%, talking/asking good questions 20%) will likely transform your workplace into a more transparent, productive one. Employees, now encouraged to share more ideas and solutions than ever before, will feel more engaged, effective and energized.
The problem is, there are some common myths around talking and leadership — and for whatever reason, people tend to believe them. Below, I’ve outlined a few of those myths, explained why they’re wrong, and offered some thoughts on how to avoid them.
Myth #1: As the leader, you’re the answer person. True, you might have a lot of good answers or ideas about what works best, how business should be done, the best solution to the problems, etc., but a really good leader encourages employees to look to themselves for the answers. When your people don’t do this, the result is countless missed opportunities — people don’t develop professionally, contribute creatively, feel empowered in their positions, take ownership of their responsibilities, and understand their role in the organization’s success. So hard as it may be at times, try holding back on providing all the answers, all the time. Offload that job to your staff, step back a bit and let them provide answers and solutions.
Myth #2: Talking makes you interesting. Really??? Speaking five languages, being an Olympian, and having the ability to stand on your head makes you interesting. But talking too much? Nope, that only makes you a bore. And you’ll know you’re a bona fide bore if you regularly see people always nodding and smiling fakely at meetings, struggling to get a word in edgewise on the phone, or getting a dazed, deer-in-the-headlights look when your voice is the only one being heard by all. If you really want to come across as interesting, try not talking much at all next time you’re face to face with someone, ask compelling questions, and only talk if you have something truly unique or important to add.
Myth #3: Asking good questions comes naturally. Whenever people decide they want to be better listeners, they often think all they need to do is keep their mouths closed more or clean out their earwax! Not true. Good listening is active listening, where you’re processing what’s being said and thinking about what you can ask to learn more, facilitate the results of the communication and, ultimately, achieve the goal of the talk. Being able to ask good questions empowers you to control the outcome of what’s being communicated. Much more than getting time-wasting, basic answers that with a little research you could probably determine yourself, asking good questions fosters “discovery,” unearthing something meaningful and accomplishing some pre-determined goal. And guess what? This is a carefully learned, oft-practiced skill!
Why do you think leaders struggle with being good listeners?