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"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Maybe we can learn an awful lot from Emerson's words. And maybe we can apply these words on a less ethereal level. Let us be silent that we may hear each other. As executives, managers, mentors, and team members our silence can be an incredibly powerful tool. Sure, I like to write a lot about presentations and speaking, but sometimes, allowing silence to fill the room allows for other voices to be heard. Important voices. Those of your staff, your peers, your teammates.

I think that today, it has become commonplace to value the sound of our voice and our own opinions over those of others. Most people want to be heard more than they want to listen to others. We do it in meetings, on our blogs, on Twitter. It's all about us isn't it? Well, not if you want to be really successful. By quieting our anxious voices and letting silences exist in our daily conversations and meetings, we allow others to be heard and to fill our own world with new information. It allows us to widen our world view. We gain insights we wouldn't have if we didn't take the time be quiet and listen.

This skill, or rather, this discipline is really important for managers. In an article for StickyMinds, Esther Derby once wrote:

"In a social situation, a 50/50 balance between talking and listening feels comfortable. But management conversations are different. Managers need to understand how people are working, and where they need help. Managers need to understand the status of work, risks, and obstacles. 30 percent talking and 70 percent listening is a more appropriate balance for management conversations."
I think Esther hit on the head in her statement. As managers, we should be listening more than speaking. Now, that doesn't mean you wait around for others to say something. You have to engage people to get them talking, and that means asking questions instead of dictating answers. When you ask your questions, allow silence to fill the space to allow the conversation to breath naturally instead of forcing and rushing answers.

By using silence and increasing your listening skills, you can help create a dynamic, innovative environment.  If people don't think their ideas are heard or accepted, they'll stop presenting them, effectively reducing your team's knowledge base and innovative ideas. You want to open the space up to allow innovative ideas to flow, and by talking less and listening more, you can do it. And if you're still more concerned with your own success than that of your team, here's a nugget for you too, a key trait of the most influential people is facility with listening and understanding another's perspective. So, maybe it's time we all started talking a bit less and started listening more.

So, how do you start listening better? Here's some great advice from Jamie Walters, the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA.
Be present
  • Resist distractions (noises, interruptions, fidgeting, prejudices, etc.).
  • Don't do five things at once. Do one: listen to the person with whom you're speaking.
  • Demonstrate your full attention by leaning forward slightly, focusing your eyes on the speaker's face, and trying not to fidget or glance away too frequently.
  • Follow the golden rule. Take a moment to realize that every person is important and deserves your attention. How does it feel to talk with someone who doesn't seem to be listening, or be ignored or treated disrespectfully?
  • Keep an open mind and be flexible to others' ideas; release your need to be right, if only temporarily. Our need to be right can cause us to be contentious, or even inflammatory.
  • Don't tune out because you disagree. You just have to listen and understand, not agree.
  • Don't jump to conclusions before you've heard the whole message.
  • If you find yourself reacting to what another person says, your body language will communicate your reaction. Try saying, "You can probably see I'm reacting a bit, but it's important to me to understand your point of view. Please tell me more about ?"

  • Ensure your understanding by saying something like, "I want to make sure I understood you correctly. You're saying ?" or "So your concern (or idea) is ?"

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