The art of knowing when not to talk

Most people think that becoming a good communicator is becoming a great speaker. However, listening can be more important than speaking. Our days are filled with meetings. We work with many varying personalities. Take a moment and think of the last meeting you were in. You probably had one or more people who tried to speak over others and might have interrupted you. Then others sit in the discussion and are on their phones, not paying attention—finally, the quiet person who doesn’t say a word. The silent participants are the people you need to watch. 

Active listening can provide insight into the rationale behind decisions and better understand the issues and challenges as you work together to achieve goals. I have been in meetings where I am excited and passionate about the topic and have caught myself interrupting another person. It takes great discipline and self-control to learn to remain quiet.

In my first board meetings, two individuals were quiet. They often didn’t say anything, but when they did speak, their words were “golden nuggets.” The few words they spoke always redirected the group back on track to the issue at hand and presented simple solutions.

One of the great benefits of being an active listener is making others feel valued. Making others feel valued is the most powerful thing a leader can do to elevate their communication. 

We all have the capacity for greatness. Speaking less doesn’t mean that we are thinking less. One study stated that we average about 6200 thoughts a day. Active listening and silence can lead to better quality thoughts because you hear more. 

Active Listening Tips

  • Be present. 
    • This means keeping our minds on the speaker and listening to their words to understand. It is not always easy to stay present. Too often, our minds will wander. You are not doing anything else if you are truly present in a conversation and meeting.
  • Make eye contact
  • Speak with a few words. 
    • This means sharing your ideas, making a clear point, and then listening more.
  • Ask questions for clarification.
  • Guide towards solutions. 
  • Before you speak, ask yourself.
    • Is it kind?
    • Is it true?
    • Is it necessary?
    • Is it helpful?
  • Be a doer
    • Respond quickly to assignments and tasks. The doers are the people that leave the meetings and start executing results.

When you listen, you learn. Quiet people change the world because they hear things others do not. The word “listen” contains the same letters as “Silent.” 

By Cheryl Viola, MBA, Executive Director/CEO