The Disaster of Big Mouths and Small Ears

Leaders fail when their mouths are too big and their ears are too small. Listening is powerful because it informs talking. The only way leaders know what to say is to listen.

Great leadership is great listening.

On a recent drive with a young leader I noticed how he’s learned to talk less and listen more. He’s able to hold his tongue, something few can do. I admire his growth.

Talking vs. Listening:

I’ve only met a handful of great listeners in my life. Typically, talking invigorates; listening exhausts.

Why so much talking:

Too much talking is the result of too little listening. People who don’t feel heard frequently talk more. Admittedly, some clam up. But, those with passion usually talk more.

The less you feel heard the more you need to talk.

The moment someone feels understood their need to talk, explain, or defend diminishes.

Goal of listening:

The goal of listening only begins with understanding; it ends with making others feel understood.

The first step toward exceptional listening is embracing silence. Just stop talking. Once you’re comfortable with silence you can step toward making others feel understood. Silence isn’t enough.


Acceptance makes people feel understood. The reason we don’t extend acceptance is because we’re afraid it means approval. We’re stingy with approval.

Listening to judge rather than understand
makes people feel judged.

Learn to extend acceptance with your tone, facial expressions, and questions. You earn the right to challenge an idea after you understand and accept it. Ask how might this work rather than explaining why it won’t, for example.


Take the comments of others seriously and they’ll get serious about what they say. Dismissing suggestions, off handedly, invites adversarial interactions.


Making people feel understood opens hearts and minds. If you want people to listen to you, listen to them.

What happens in you when you feel listened to?

What makes people feel understood?