Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut

This great quote by Robert Newton Peck is a constant reminder: less is truly more.

We are all guilty; while appearing to listen to the other person we are actually just thinking of our own reply. Do we truly participate in meaningful dialogue any more – verbal communication has become a ritual, a necessity to get what we want. Excuse the pun but real conversation is something we just pay lip service to. [1st of 5 paragraphs]

There is no shortage of insight on this topic but ironically it appears to be the wisdom most ignored (or maybe we’re all just talking too much to listen to good advice). Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Greek philosopher Epictetus said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” [2/5]

I think it’s quite simple – we are all just so rushed that really listening is a drain on precious time that we just don’t have. I know a pastor’s wife who has the most incredible gift of listening. The world and a demanding congregation could be clamouring for her attention around you but she would be locked on to what you were saying. We tend to think talking commands respect but actually good listening earns it. [3/5]

Some careers are all about listening to other people – generally the person talking is sitting on the proverbial couch and you are taking notes; by the hour. Lack of time affecting listening quality in other professions is a real problem; many people are paid to manage teams, deliver projects and this requires talking, influencing, directing (at speed). Running a meeting and doing a presentation not only requires talking but also inspiring people – that is not the time to shut up. [4/5]

The time to shut up is when the opportunity presents itself, and this requires self-awareness, intuition and patience – in that order. I know someone who writes “BE QUIET” at the top of his notes when he is in a meeting, especially when he feels his talkative nature might dominate things. He is a great leader and has plenty to offer – for the rest of us we would do well to remember that the word listen contains the same letters as silent. [5/5]

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