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Best Advice: Shut Up and Listen

You may think you know everything you need to about growing your business successfully. Think again.

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When I was an, um, well, younger attorney I was lucky to be part of a trial team headed by two seasoned lawyers who mentored me in the practice of law and, most importantly, how to win at trial. In one particular instance we found ourselves before a local legend of a trial judge. For years, the closest I got to making arguements before the judge was preparing the briefs that my mentors used to craft their arguments.

Not today. As was typical of my training trial by fire was the rule of the land. As the judge took the bench one of my partners whispered in my ear, "It’s your turn today kid. We believe in you. Get it done." And with that they passed the torch to me to take the next level in my development as a trial attorney, saving a massive case from a motion for dismissal now pending before the court.
 
At the appropriate time I stood to address the court, knees shaking, voice quaking, but managed to deliver a clear and persuasive argument as to why the judge should rule in our favor. I sat. As is the rule of motions hearings the opposing counsel, a large imposing Southern gentleman, white hair, glasses, stood and delivered his response.
Understand, I use the term gentleman because for all intensive reasons he resembled one. But for the next fifteen minutes he launched an aggravated attack not only upon my argument but upon me, my law firm, and I’m pretty sure he may have even insulted my upbringing and lineage somewhere in there.
 
When he finally sat down, the paint still peeling from the walls from the harshness of his tone, the judge began to speak. "Gentlemen, I’ve heard enough. Angry man (real name omitted, of course) has raised some legitimate concerns. But …"
 
Still caught up in the moment and before I realized the judge was speaking and, more importantly, before hearing the judge’s words and specifically the word "but", I began to rise out of my seat to address these baseless allegations, support my argument, and vindicate my and my family’s character. But as I rose from my chair I simultaneously felt two hands yanking me back down into my seat. My mentors had both pulled me down so I would not stand. Not expecting this I fell somewhat clumsily back into my chair creating a small commotion in the process.
 
Well the judge paused in mid-sentence, his steely gazed fixed upon me, and I waited for my punishment to commence for disrupting his line of thought. To my surprise, his stare softened to a bemused look as he chuckled to himself. And in a statement that easily could have been made by Fred Gwynn’s (the judge) character in My Cousin Vinnie, the judge said to me a lesson I will never forget: "Son, what your partners are trying to tell you is that you’ve already won. I was about to rule in your favor. Don’t mess it up."
 
In short, shut up and listen.
 
I learned a lot that day about when to fight, when to talk, and when to listen. You see, in law school you are taught that every opinion must be supported, every fight fought, and every allegation addressed. But that is not really the way it works in the real world. Often it is better to pick your battles, learn from listening, and speak only when the situation requires it.
 
Too many people today want to inject their opinions in everything before they have ever listened to the other side.  But if you really want to learn, really learn, try to listen more than you speak.
 
When we started growing The Trademark Company I thought I knew everything about business, how to run a company, and how to grow the same. But once I learned to apply this lesson to everything surrounding the growth of our business, well, that’s when things really started to take off.
 
Originally if someone had advice for us I would almost be offended taking an attitude that "I know what I’m doing, why would I need help from you?" Why? Where does this get you? It keeps you bottled in the world you exist in currently closing you off to new ideas which could lead you in bold new directions.
 
So as you’re building your business and someone has something to say about any facet thereof do one simple thing: listen. You may take their advice, you may learn something new. You may learn nothing. But you’ll never learn anything if you don’t listen.

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Dec 1, 2011

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MATTHEW SWYERS is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.
@TrademarkCo




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