A few weeks ago, I walked into a meeting with someone in a corporation who is interested in our company and what we do. I know one of the most important things I can do in any meeting, especially a sales meeting, is listen. Listening helps me learn more about the person across the table from me—their passions and desires, the struggles they face in their business, and the opportunities we have to serve them effectively.
And even though everything within me knows that I need to sit there and listen, I can’t help myself—I want to talk. Inevitably, a few minutes into the meeting, I jump into the conversation to offer an idea or give an example. One of the worst things we can do is interject and interrupt someone before they are finished talking. We might be stepping in to try to solve a problem, but we’ve only heard one piece of it. If we are patient enough to sit and listen for few more minutes, we have an opportunity to hear the second, third, and fourth problems which might be bigger issues that we are more suited to solve.
Interrupting and interjecting doesn’t just happen in the business world, it happens all the time. In fact, a recent study showed that when a patient is in a doctor’s office explaining their ailments and symptoms, the average amount of time a doctor waits before interrupting is 18 seconds (The Health Care Blog). I get it. These doctors are smart. They listen to patients day after day and are used to diagnosing, prescribing, and moving onto the next person. They want to solve the problem quickly and efficiently, but when they don’t hear the full range of symptoms, they sometimes risk losing an opportunity to solve a major, even life-threatening, issue.
This blog is not meant to just criticize sales people and doctors. It’s meant to expose an innate flaw in all of us. Social scientists say that while this tendency to interrupt is true for doctors, it’s also true for most people. Though opinions vary about an exact time we will listen to another person without interrupting, most agree that it’s well under 30 seconds.
Today, this blog is as much for me as it is for you. It’s a simple but very strong reminder to shut up and listen. It might be the most important thing we do today.
Shut up and listen. It might be the most important thing we do today. @KevinPaulScott
Try it when you sit in your next meeting. Don’t focus on formulating a response. Listen to understand.
When you walk in the door this evening, listen to your spouse. Be curious, and ask questions.
Instead of cutting your daughter off mid-sentence, listen to why she got in trouble at school today. Hear the full story before you dive into a corrective response.
When you ask somehow how they are doing, don’t ask out of obligation or with the hope that they’ll ask you in return. Listen because you care about them.
As Ernest Hemingway put it, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
So, this week, shut up and listen.
You’ll stand out among your friends, colleagues, and peers, you’ll probably become the most effective problem-solver in the room, and you’ll definitely learn more about the people around you.
I have a new book out called The Lens of Leadership. It’s all about perspective because I believe the way we view things changes how we do things.