As a communication specialist who is frequently brought in to coach business professionals to become more effective speakers, it may seem counterintuitive that one of my top recommendations to clients who are seeking to boost their professional stature and their ability to effectively lead within an organization is to stop talking.
Why? The primary reason behind this advice is that those who monopolize conversations often miss out on properly receiving the message and the nuances (vocal inflection, nonverbal communication) of the speaker’s communication. And sometimes, the real meaning behind the message lies in the subtle clues that one needs to pay attention to in order to properly understand what is actually being communicated.
Professionals with a high speaking-to-listening ratio (i.e. talking more than they listen) are often missing the mark in terms of absorbing the real message about their people and the real issues that are surrounding them or the team. Additionally, a low ratio listener not only creates their own barrier to understanding what others are truly saying, but they often unknowingly create situations in which the person/people with who they are communicating with feel diminished. None of this is good for either side of the communication equation or for building rapport! In order to avoid this situation, it is best to evaluate your own speaking-to-listening ratio.
What is the ideal speaking-to-listening ratio? As the ancient Greeks, who were themselves great students of communication, inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi “mhden agan”- everything in moderation (nothing in excess). Moderation is the key. That being said, some situations call for more listening, while others call for more speaking.
Below are some actionable tips for improving your speaking-to-listening ratio:
Focus on hearing (processing what is being said) vs. listening
Stay present and avoid the temptation to think ahead about what you will say next
Ask for feedback from others. You may be listening less than you think! This tip is especially important for senior executives who rarely receive honest corrective feedback regarding the fact that they talk too much (would you tell your boss without them asking?)
Record yourself on your smartphone during a meeting or a phone call and play it back to determine your percentage of talking time
Embrace silence! Silence is powerful. It allows others to:
Process what was just said
React to the information
Allow listeners to come up with their own suggestions for next steps, solutions, etc.
Keep in mind that communication is both the giving and the receiving of information. Excellent communicators understand this thinking, and they ensure that they keep the balance in their speaking-to-listening ratio in order to effectively lead and influence at work.
Tori Hollingworth, Executive Communication Coach and Trainer