I am a talker. I am also a nervous talker, meaning that if I don’t know what else to do I ramble on and on or if I am meeting someone for the first time, I talk to avoid any awkward silence. In the past this has meant that I accidentally interrupt or cut people off mid-sentence to interject some kind of likeness, i.e., an enthusiastic “me too!” or have committed to something I otherwise would not have.
In recent years I have learned to control my talking habits and to think before I speak. I have also become in tune with the power of listening. I now wait until I am certain (or almost certain) that the speaker has finished what they are saying before I speak.
I also don’t answer nonexistent questions in an attempt to relate to the person I am speaking with. In the past I have committed to activities I really had no desire to participate in simply because I had interjected what was being said with an, “Oh that sounds fun!” Which was misinterpreted for a, “Great – you can host every second month.” This later resulted in disappointment by the person I was speaking with when, after some serious soul searching, I bailed out.
Richard Branson is a strong believer in the importance of listening. In his interview with Entrepreneur.com on Why Leading means Listening, Branson states that “if you want to stand out as a leader, a good place to begin is by listening.” It’s about paying attention to what people are really saying and then responding to them after taking the time to really think about what was said.
Of course, this isn’t always easy in conversation, but you will get better at it. Because I now make a conscious effort to listen (which sometimes means I literally tell myself to listen), I no longer commit to things accidentally. I try my best to wait for the speaker to finish speaking before sharing my opinion and by doing so I often learn more about what was being said (this is very important in client meetings). I have also stopped fighting for attention in group settings and no longer interrupt to interject my two cents – i.e., just because I went to Paris once too doesn’t mean I know more than the seasoned traveller giving his advice. I also wait until there is a noticeable pause or answer questions directly, and I only contribute if I have something I truly believe is valuable.
I have learned so much since making a conscious effort to just listen. I still talk. A lot. But I also listen a lot too, which makes what I have to say all the more valuable.