Your Mouth Makes You Dumb
There’s an inverse relationship between speaking and learning. The more you speak the less you learn. The only exception is when you open your mouth to ask questions. In other words, your mouth makes you dumb your ears make you smart.
Getting more suggestions
The more answers you offer the fewer suggestions you’ll get. Combine this with the tendency of others to tell you what you want to hear and you have a formula for dumb leaders and slow organizations.
Silence helps others talk. During conversations, try holding your tongue just to the point of awkward silence. I’ve found, if I wait, others begin speaking just before I open my mouth. At the executive level, quickness of speech silences others.
The right amount of silence makes you seem smart. Too much silence makes you look dumb. Additionally, too much silence makes you seem withdrawn, even judgmental. It’s important to question, contribute, affirm, guide, and assign.
Research shows that powerful leaders interrupt others. Have you seen people almost waiting to be interrupted by a leader? I have. They’ve come to expect it from those in power.
Abbreviate the length of time you speak. If you’re a talker, it’s likely you talk too long, give too many details, and offer too many suggestions.
What personal speaking strategies can leaders employ to enhance learning and invite participation?
How do you determine how much to speak and when to listen?
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Good morning Dan and great topic!
To answer your question, the best way to find that balance is to be genuinely interested in what others have to say, that allows the balance to occur authentically. Where I find it challenging is when its a topic I am highly passionate about, when this is the case I usually own it up front, not to pardon me if I do start to ramble, but rather to set the stage for me to shut up 🙂
I would like to add that there is much more to listening than listening. It is so important to listen through the lens of the person speaking. Many only listen through their own lens, passing judgment first, missing the opportunity to learn on a deeper level. This is most common between generational gaps, think about what motivates them, open your mind to their perspective before you make up your mind about what they are saying.
Thanks again Dan and have a super day!
Thanks for adding value to the discussion. Love your insights.
Your comment, “be genuinely interested,” is so clear and practical. Additionally, love the idea of listening, “through the lens of the person speaking.”
You offer some insightful pointers on the hows and whys of listening rather than speaking. The opportunity to learn from others presents itself daily. I’ve been guilty of giving answers rather than asking questions that would allow for more suggestions. There are definitely times when this is appropriate, yet overall, it’s more effective to allow for input.
As a facilitator/speaker/trainer, it’s always a delicate balance between offering information and finding out what other opinions or ideas may be lingering in the crowd. If I’ve already asked questions such as, “What have you tried in the past?”, or “What works for others in the group?”, I will then offer my opinion or expertise. However, there are times when I just go straight to offering my expertise…and that’s a balancing act. It may depend on the insight of the group, time constraints, the complexity of the question or at times, if I’m just not thinking about all the wisdom around me (and that’s the time when it’s ineffective to jump in with my answer).
Thanks for the reminder of the opportunities we have to learn: as leaders and as human beings.
Thanks for bring your context and insights to this important topic.
You are paid to teach so I understand the balance between creating interaction, building rapport, and also sharing your insights.
Your ideas that listening to assess what the audience knows, leverage wisdom in the room, and build a connections makes sense to me.
I’m thankful when I see you in the discussion stream.
Great insight and suggestions Dan. These thoughts are very helpful to a hands on leader such as myself. Appreciate you!
Thanks for starting my week off with an encouraging word!
I had great success coaching Army cadets. These young people were very motivated to succeed and win the yearly competition that pitted about fifteen regional Universities against each other. (It was sort of a mini military Olympics for Army ROTC. The event is only held once a year.) I found that the more I listened to their ideas about training and preparing the better we did. My job as coach evolved from directing a training regiment to simply supplying them with adequate training resources and oversight to the team captain. The team captain was ultimately responsible for the training plan. I just got out of the way and offered suggestion from time to time. The end result was improvement from 26th place in the event before I arrived to a Championship three years later. Those young people taught me a lot about leadership.
Get out of the way of motivated individual and communicate the vision. The great ones always figure it out.
Wow, congratulations on your coaching success. Thanks for bringing this context to the discussion.
I wonder if a core reason performance improved was the teams ownership? Feeling listened to enables others.
Thanks for sharing your insights and experience.
It was all about team ownership. I could not compete with them. They needed to lead themselves through the competition. Sure I can motivate them with words right before they start an event but they are the ones executing, they succeeded or failed based on their efforts.
One aspect that I’m not exactly sure how to translate to the business world is that I trained them to be more mentally tough than the other teams. If it rained, we trained in the rain and when it snowed, we trained in the snow. No days off, but the funny thing was, they wanted to train in the rain and snow and cold. I didn’t have to force them. ( I could talk about coaching that team for hours without a break!)
I’ll never forget when one of the freshman said, “I hope it doesn’t rain the day of the competition”. And a Senior jumped in before I could address the comment and said “I hope it does, I hope it pours because we’re mentally tougher than everyone else”.
I just smiled.
I’m intimidated by your teams from the past and I don’t even have to face them! 🙂
Dan, back in the day when I was training on small group leadership, there was a technique I picked up that may apply here:
Always have a donut or something in your hand. Ask the question, then take a bite. This gives the others a subconcious prod to answer because they know you can’t talk with your mouth full.
Scott, I love this idea! Though maybe mine will be an apple like Cap’n Barbossa.
(Couldn’t resist the Pirates of the Caribbean reference.) 🙂
Scott there is a twist to that, that I really like, will try it out, thanks!
Also makes the case for a working lunch model being effective.
Taffy or a peanut butter sandwich would be pretty funny too…
Julia – I can picture Barbossa eating the apple as I read your reply. Nice!
Doc – Taffy! Now THAT would create some silence, huh? 🙂
Hopefully you’re not selling weight loss products! Ha.
Have to chuckle with it all! 😀 But you know, there is a psychological reason why diplomacy often involves food. It is easier to be cooperative with someone you are breaking bread with.
You’re absolutely right. More good happens when we come together over a meal than at most other venues.
I think one strategy employed by effective speakers that also extends to the leadership dialogue is to remember that listeners have different learning styles. A leader who engages me early on by asking a question to confirm my engagement or even has me physically move (an invite to sit closer for example if I am in the back of the room) takes steps to keep my mind from wandering.
Totally on-point! Part of my practice involves moderating groups of mid-level senior execs, and very often the solutions to their challenges, both big and small, fall right our of their own mouths after we re-phrase or re-position those challenges in the form of provocative questions…
Great blog BTW!
If I’m not careful, I can be a talker. As a natural at the art of capturing a story, it’s a gift. But it can also be a weakness. Here are three tools I’ve found useful to help me stay trim:
1. Remember that people communicate (and retain) information best in three main ways: audio, visual and kinetic. A balance of the three seems to work best. Honestly, sometimes we need to shut up and let a picture say a 1000 words or let someone get a literal handle on something. But even past that, some people retain and communicate best by hearing their own thoughts expressed in audio. Which means, get them into the discussion and you’ll get the best out of them.
My son is an example of someone who performs best through discussion, not just listening. Because he has an unusual visual impairment with a kind of blend of parallax and monocular vision (and medical terms I find difficult to describe), his thoughts literally form best through discussion and the hearing of his own voice. Once he’s been a part of the discussion, he’s your man and knows exactly what to do. Without it, he has a harder time putting his thought process in order or “getting it” because he has no mental black-board to “see” things in his mind. When he can verbalize thoughts as they take form, the quality of his work is amazingly better, because his brain is wired that way. It’s been an interesting path of discovery for us at home and I’ve learned to tailor my communication for others as a result.
2. There is a book that I love called: How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less, by Milo Frank. I listen to the audio version on a periodic basis to remind me how to trim my words and get to the point.
3. Once words are spoken, you can’t take them back. So if it’s the wrong words, or just too many, the problem is the same. I keep in mind an old adage that goes something like this: “Better they wonder why you didn’t open your mouth, than why you did!”
Julia – Your comment was totally appropriate for a client I was coaching this morning. I passed it on. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing that Scott – Awesome! I’m so glad!
One of your points grabbed me Dan…”powerful leaders interrupt others”
Are they really leaders then and/or they really powerful?
Not to diminish roles of supervisor or manager, but aren’t they just managing or supervising? (and even that at an entry level manager/supervisor) Just a thought.
With condolences to Jeff Foxworthy…
You know you have talked too long or too much if you are wondering if you have talked too long or too much.
You know you have talked too long when people start side dialogues (there could be other reasons too worth attending to).
You know you have talked too long when you only see the whites of their eyes…MEGO.
You know you have talked too long when you repeat yourself without intent.
So who are these people we call ‘listeners’? Did they apply for that job? What are the qualifications? Do we want ‘listeners’ in our organization?
Maybe so, but only briefly…might suggest we want ‘doers’.
So how do most people learn and retain best?
Lecture?-less than 10% (would this be listening?)
Source: National Training Labs, Bethel, Maine.
PS: Love your shiney new graphics Dano!
There is much wisdom in your post about silence and not interrupting — ONCE the leader has developed a culture of engagement. I often work with technical leaders whose personality style is quiet. Their challenge is to speak up and develop a culture of engagement.
I was in a meeting last week scoping the needs for training I will be doing. The executive leader was there and the leaders one level down. The exec was very quiet and it did not produce conversation. After 45 minutes, he finally spoke up and gave his key expectation of the training. Had he been willing to say that sooner and THEN be quiet, it could have produced more substantive dialogue.
Your point captures it — too much silence or too much talking creates trouble. I vote with Jen Kuhn on this one – it’s about balance.
Hmm… maybe my mom was right: “Too much of anything is no good.”
Great example of the leader setting the tone (or in this case not) for the meeting. It was a perfect opportunity for him to plant the vision.
Perhaps he was acting as if he wanted to hear others ideas, however, it sounds like what others thought should be planted might not be part of the program. And what does that do for engagement?!
cept chocolate Kate…never can have too much chocolate!
Dark Belgian chocolate … OK!
I guess the test is – who’s voice do we most like hearing?
As a leader we should like hearing others sing their tune, preferably in harmony with the others in our team, with the occasional unpracticed solo to show we are not just following blindly.
I sorta like the donut/apple idea (Doc was ids the variation you are thinking) though in some cultures this would be impolite. I often find my self picking something up from the table and fiddling with it whilst remaining locked in contact with the ‘audience’.
I also find that if you ask for ideas or opinions you have to listen to them and do so openly.
Also (and at home i really need to work on this) cut out the “but…” or should that be Butt the but’s?
Depending on the topic and audience i may open with one of two statements:
I do have an opinion on this but wish to hear how others are feeling about this first.
I want to start this discussion by declaring my hand then I want to hear from the rest of this group as to how they feel or think about this matter.
I keep in mind that i should be as happy to be dissuaded from my thinking as I would be if i managed to persuade others.
In being dissuaded i have learnt something in the process.
If i successfully persuade, generally i have very little information to run with.
Butt the buts…great phrase and with kiddos it runs rampant. Seems like the precursor to ‘but’ is ‘yeah, but’. Faux agreement.
A while back, when doing some psych groups, often would encounter the ‘yeah, buts’…. yeah, but it won’t work…yeah, but I tried it…yeah, but it is too hard to do… yeah, but (I don’t want to).
Decided the “Yeah-but” was a mythical and archaic creature that really looks like a sleazy rabbit wearing a ton of gold chains, open shirt, clinging to disco. (Told you it was a psych group) So we drew up the ‘Yeah-but’ and put him up on the wall…whenever someone started going on yeah, buts, we pointed to the picture and said there are no yeah, buts allowed in here.
Damn Doc, I look just like a ‘Yeah But’!!
Dan – Excellent post. One of the points that really caught my attention was your point on interrupting:
Research shows that powerful leaders interrupt others.
Have you seen people almost waiting to be interrupted
by a leader? I have. They’ve come to expect it from
those in power.
While interrupting can be a bad thing, there are situations where this can be a positive. I’ve seen this many times – especially during group sessions or presentations involving “speakers” and “questioners”. In many cases, the (sometimes ongoing) questioner is asking their question in hopes that the speaker can either confirm their thoughts or pull together multiple threads from the questioner and distill them into a single, coherent concept.
Just a thought. Now I’ll be quiet and listen, for a moment.
Excellent point. I agree completely.
Sometimes interrupting someone shows respect for others.
I’ve been there and done that.
Thanks for adding value.
Best to you,
I think, to enhance learning and invite participation, leader should ask question related to common concern and ask for suggestions. Usually, when people raise questions and repeatedely no solutions come, they think that nothing is going to happen, so they forget anticipating the outcome before. One should ask like this ” Is this concern is beyond question or beyond our limitations. What could be the possible ways to solve it and who can solve it. This may open discussion into new perspectives.
How much to speak and when to listen depends upon the organisational culture, people and practices. Transparent and fair practices often lead people to open up and discuss issues freely. On the other hand, practices that discourage openness and transparency, hinder people to discuss about their opinions. In such situation, it is better to keep silent.
In dysfunctional culture silenced employees are brighter than the people who frequently speak and in transparent culture, people who keep quiet are often dull, selfish, backstabber who play their game when meeting or discussion is over.
Great post. Thanks