There's a quote by Plato that has always stuck with me: "Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools speak because they have to say something."
It's a saying that has helped my introverted side find comfort in large group meetings, overshadowed by loud voices that dominate the conversation. Whether I'm running the meeting or just participating, I've learned to embrace the quiet. Turns out, listening is the most powerful tool I can contribute.
When you say too much, a lot of it gets tuned out. When you actively listen, process, and thoughtfully speak, your words become more powerful.
A while back, I was ready to hire my training director for a new gym I wanted to open. We were good friends and for months, we were really excited, bouncing back ideas back and forth. When I stop to think about it, I now remember being the one who did most of the talking.
Before we really got things rolling, she asked to sit down with me and told me her new truth: She didn't think it was the right time for her. She was going through a personal life shift and she couldn't commit. I was caught off guard in the moment, but if I had taken a second in the previous months to acknowledge her subtle cues, I could have seen it coming.
Fortunately, we're still good friends, but it's a lesson that has stuck with me. Sometimes, we get so excited that we can barely sneak a breath in between our sentences -- and that's okay. Other times, we need to let it out and then, stop, and hear what the response is.
When we decide to dictate conversation and action through too much speech, we lose our audience. We lose the opportunity for raw reaction. We lose the chance to listen to what the other side is thinking.
So, here's your challenge. The next time you step into a meeting with a single person, your department, or your company, follow these four steps:
- Present your idea. Share your thoughts, state the purpose of the meeting, and explain what needs to be explained. Most importantly, try not to infiltrate too much opinion.
- Sit back and listen. Be open to all things positive, critical, and indifferent. If you have approached someone for advice or their thoughts, don't fire back with accusatory comments that could refrain them from speaking honestly.
- To create the most impact, ask questions. Instead of saying, "Well, I don't think that's true because...", try for, "In your experience, why do you think that is the case?" You will be surprised at how much your colleagues will appreciate the opportunity to share.
- Acknowledge that you have heard their thoughts, and respond concisely and thoughtfully. Make sure that they know you were listening by restating their main points and responding appropriately. If you have to continue on without factoring their opinion, say something like, "We do have to move forward with this but I will do my best to make sure that we factor in your insight on the next project/decision."
At the end of the day, being a quiet leader means listening. It doesn't mean becoming passive, overstepped, or forgotten. It means becoming inclusive by letting others have a moment to share and removing the need to validate ego through excessive speech.
When we can all come together and equally share thoughts, then it becomes a team. Then, and only then, can true change, individual accountability, and team ownership take place.