How much talking do you do on an average day, and how much listening? I mean real listening, where you focus on what the other person is saying and take it in, instead of planning the brilliant thing you'll say the moment the other person finishes speaking?
If you're like most of us, the answer is: Not enough. Most people tend to treat conversation like a competitive sport, in which the person who says the most, makes the cleverest point, persuades others of an opinion, or even speaks the longest and loudest is the winner. All of us fall into this trap. All of us find ourselves interrupting, speechifying, insisting, and coming up with witticisms--all to support our point of view or display our superior knowledge.
If you stop and think about it, though, this approach is the opposite of the one we should take. In most conversations, the person who speaks least benefits most and the person who speaks most benefits least.
1. Knowledge is power.
In fact, in our information-driven world, how much you know makes more difference to your long-term success than how much money you have or almost anything else. A person who's talking is giving away information--often more than he or she intended. A person who's listening is receiving information. Who gets the best deal in that exchange?
2. You won't reveal anything you'll later regret.
If you don't share a piece of information today, you can always share it tomorrow. Conversely, if you do share a piece of information today, you can never take it back again.
How many times have you revealed something and then later wished that you hadn't? Or expressed a thought you might better have kept to yourself? We've all had these experiences one time or another. The less you say, the smaller the chances you'll share information and later wish you hadn't.
3. You won't say anything dumb.
Abraham Lincoln said, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." I'm not suggesting you remain silent all the time. But it's all too easy to speak thoughtlessly, with insufficient information, or out of a wrong assumption. That can make you look less intelligent than you are, and you will minimize the chances of it happening if you listen more than you speak.
4. You won't use up your material.
Have you ever tuned in to an interview or attended a webinar by your favorite business guru, only to hear that guru tell the audience a story that you've already read in his or her latest book? It happens all the time, and for a simple reason: Most of us have a limited supply of interesting personal anecdotes, experiences, and pearls of wisdom. Inevitably, we wind up using the same ones over and over.
Stories feel freshest and have the most impact when someone is hearing them for the first time. By saving yours for the right moment, you give them the most power.
5. The person who's doing the talking will feel understood and cared about.
Most people go through life wishing to be listened to more. So by listening rather than talking, you are giving something valuable to the person who's speaking. Especially if you really are taking in what that person is saying and not thinking about something else. The speaker will appreciate that gift and you will have created a bond. He or she will feel understood and validated. It's a powerful relationship-building tool, and an especially powerful sales tool.
6. You may gain inside information.
As someone who's done thousands of interviews, I can attest to the power of saying nothing. I sometimes use it by accident, when a source finishes answering a question and I'm caught off-guard for a moment or two before coming up with my next question. Very often, the other person will jump in to fill the silence with further information--sometimes something he or she had not planned to share.
You may or may not want to use this manipulative tactic on purpose. But it's almost always true that the less you say, the more information the person you're speaking with will share.
7. When you do speak, people will listen.
Who do you listen to more closely--someone who never shuts up, or someone who only speaks once in a while? As with anything else, the law of supply and demand holds true: If you constantly share your opinions, no one will seek them out. If you only say what you're thinking on occasion, or only make a point one time instead of over and over, your words are likely to have more weight.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting that you always keep your opinions to yourself. The people around you need to know what you're thinking, doubly so if you're in a leadership role. But if you spend more time listening than you do speaking, so that the people you're speaking to feel understood and bonded with you, when you do speak your mind, they'll be listening much more closely.