Listen. Talking is easy, listening is hard.
My mother taught me the virtue of listening – “That’s why God gave you have one mouth and two ears” she used to say.
But talking about ourselves feels so good! Talking relieves stress, talking controls the conversation, talking fills in the awkward silence, talking relays our wants, talking shares our experiences, talking shares our knowledge, talking shares our opinions, talking shares our emotions, talking gives direction and talking feels really good. Nature intended talking about ourselves to feel good, talking releases dopamine.
So if talking releases dopamine, talking can become addictive. The most addictive things in life can be fun but in excess can be really harmful. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
Over my own career, I remember specific moments during a job interview or a business meeting where I started out on task by listening closely, asking intelligent questions, responding appropriately and speaking concisely. Then as the meeting was wrapping up and I was feeling comfortable, I ended up throwing in one more story or comment that I regretted even while the words were coming out of my mouth.
Early in my career, my business partners and I met with a ranking federal official. We hoped he would be a mentor to our business. We were concluding a successful meeting closing our portfolios, putting our pens away and getting up when one of my partners asked an inappropriate politically charged question. The official’s face clouded and his anger was evident. We ungracefully extracted ourselves from the meeting. On the way back to the office we asked the offending partner why he asked such a stupid question. He responded, “Well I didn’t say much in the meeting so I felt like I needed to say something.” Often, silence is golden! We can get in trouble talking but rarely by being quiet.
People Tune Out
We attend business meetings and mixers daily. We want to be interesting, helpful and witty and leave a great impression – so we talk. Talking feels good; at first we are on point, then we get off in uncharted territory where the listener may be glazing over, then we talk more to get the listener re-engaged but by then they have tuned out.
Mark Goulston, MD shares an interesting idea in the Harvard Business Journal. Never talk for more than an average traffic light – 40 seconds max. Green light – talk, yellow light – wind down and red light – stop and flip the conversation to the other party. Let them experience the dopamine rush.
A wise man once said, “People may not remember what you said but will remember how you made them feel.” The best way to show you care? Ask questions, be genuinely interested in what they have to say – listen! Psychologists and sales coaching systems like Sandler remind us that when a person speaks and the other party listens intently the speaker instinctively feels trust toward the listener.
So listen to what mom said and put it into practice, listen a lot and speak little.