The Golden Rule of Listening: How to Speak Loud and Clear without Opening Your Mouth

by Jennifer Miller on June 24, 2011

in Personal Effectiveness

About a month ago, I read an excellent guest post on Great Leadership by Tim Eyre. I liked his writing style so much that I asked if he’d be willing to share some thoughts on The People Equation. He said “yes” and what follows is an insightful observation about the power of listening.

Guest Post by Tim Eyre

As a guiding business principle, the golden rule isn’t half bad. Doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you can be translated as practicing integrity, fairness, or even good karma in business. Recently I ran into a situation where I found myself invoking the golden rule – with a twist – to explain to a member of our team the power of listening.

I wouldn’t be offending this guy to say he is “a talker.” He’d tell you the same thing. In the office you can hear him on the phone through a closed door, and yet his ability to carry on a conversation with anyone has served our team extremely well as a whole. But when he became part of a strategic action committee in our corporate office, I saw first-hand how his gift for gab can get even in his own way at times.

At the first committee meeting, he began well enough by chatting with others before the meeting started. But then, he committed these social missteps: he continued whispering as the meeting started, and then when something being discussed piqued his interest he interrupted and dominated the discussion. Some people tried to interject with their own points of view before giving up in frustration and others completely disengaged to surreptitiously text or doodle on their notepads. The meeting had been hijacked, the agenda forgotten, time wasted, the morale, energy, and focus of the committee absolutely quashed.

Later I approached him to discuss ways in which he could contribute to a more productive meeting. When I threw out the simple suggestion that he try to listen a little more, he scoffed. “I’m an ideas person,” he said. “I’m just throwing stuff out there.” I pressed a little more and he responded that he wasn’t trying to dominate the conversation, but he kept coming up with stuff he thought could help. He claimed he couldn’t contain himself. I praised his energy and innovation, but he still wasn’t getting what I was saying until I finally asked him these questions: How would you feel if no one listened to you? What does it feel like when no one listens? How do you feel when people do listen to you? I told him the golden rule of listening, that he should listen to other people the way he wanted to be listened to – that sometimes he could say more by talking less.

When you talk less and listen more this is what you’re saying:

You value other people and their opinion. People want to be heard. Look people in the eyes and listen to what they have to say, and they will feel engaged, connected, and loyal. If people are allowed to contribute to a discussion and feel their opinion is taken seriously, then they will be better and more committed team members. If you dominate a conversation you are saying that your ideas are more important than anyone else’s.

You value other people’s time. Ever been caught by someone who will not stop talking even as you make your way to the door or glance at your watch? Show people you value their time by making your points succinctly and by allowing equal time for their ideas in the conversation.

You are an intelligent and thoughtful person able to hear and consider multiple points of view. A smart person listens to all ideas, takes the good ones into consideration, and uses that information. A person who talks all the time limits his or her wisdom to only those ideas that originate within his or her own mind. If you listen, you just may learn something that can help you.

You have important things to say. Would you rather be known as the person who says a lot of stuff or the person who says smart stuff? When you limit what you say in order to listen more, you become more selective with what you verbalize. You will pick your best ideas to share because time is limited. When you do not limit your talking, your good ideas are hidden and smothered by all the other stuff. People will listen when you speak if you do it less and with intention.

You are mature and professional. A child babbles about him- or herself and it’s cute. Of course that innocent child’s world revolves around him- or herself. That same attitude is not as cute in adults. An ability to step back and listen shows that you see yourself as part of a greater world that exists outside of yourself.

If for no other reason to listen more and talk less, remember the pay-off of the golden rule: If you listen to them, they will listen to you. If you want others to take your ideas to heart, then you must offer them the same courtesy.

If you are a talker, it may seem daunting to curtail your energetic and friendly advice and ideas. But reminding yourself of the golden rule of listening will not only say a lot about you, it may also reap unexpected benefits. Potential clients may feel a more reciprocal relationship with you and be more likely to give you business. Listening to your clients you may learn something that helps you serve their needs better, thus increasing the chance for return business as well as referrals. By listening better in conversation you may pick up on good leads or be able to make more meaningful networking connections. And as with the original golden rule, the golden rule of listening works just as well outside of work – try it with friends and family and enjoy the benefits of saying more by talking less.

Tim Eyre works in the self storage industry, where he helps his customers store seasonal equipment when it is not being used for outdoor activities or home improvement projects.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mitch Mitchell June 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Great point, Tim, and I like the tactic of putting the person in the place of people being irritated by his behavior. It’s a tactic that works wonders, though sometimes pushes a person too far in the other direction. I hope he learned the lesson.

Laurie McRae July 2, 2013 at 8:34 am

I have to do a presentation on “talking less” at my family reunion…..would you have any ideas that I could use?

Jennifer Miller July 3, 2013 at 10:17 am

Laurie,

Would you please give me a bit of context? How does “talking less” fit into your family reunion?

David Sawdon March 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm

I’m a talker and I am consciously trying to listen more as the Bible says Be quick to listen slow to speak and slow to become angry.
I am not a young man 67 so have spent a lifetime talking too much and also integrity is tested .
I am an insecure man which is no excuse in most of my life I’m caring , sharing but I don’t always leave things unstead which shouldn’t be said.
Please help this old fool.
God Bless

Renan November 16, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Recently, a friend commented to me that people “don’t listen” to her, or that they interrupt her a lot, yet, that those very same people will listen closely to me.

I’m lucky. I’ve learned from talking to much younger people, that the details we fifty-plus-year olds find so compelling are really unnecessary to the point. Having a kid, a man in particular, has taught me how to get to the point without being abrupt. Often, when I am conversing with her, I try to interject when she pauses, but she’ll hurry to say, “Wait, I’m not finished!”, and continues on. And on. Generally, though, she’s great to talk to, really sharp, and has a great sense of humor, so I’d like to respond helpfully to her observations about the different ways people respond to us. Any suggestions?

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