Successful business leaders know that to engage employees, meet customer needs, and stay ahead in the marketplace they need to listen more than they talk.
Take Richard Branson, for example, billionaire founder of Virgin Group, who says: “Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak. I am endlessly surprised by what new and useful information I can gather just by keeping my ears open.”
In a LinkedIn post Branson said: “We have two ears and one mouth, using them in proportion is not a bad idea! To be a good leader you have to be a great listener. Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places, so you should always keep your ears open for some shrewd advice. This can mean following online comments as closely as board meeting notes, or asking the frontline staff for their opinions as often as the CEOs. Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them.”
Research bears out that effective communication (which includes listening!) is tied to success. A recent study showed that companies with more effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over the last 5 years compared to companies with less effective communicators.
President Barack Obama is known as a great communicator, usually in reference to his polished speaking skills. But he also knows, and demonstrates, the value of being a great listener – someone who quietly and thoughtfully listens to different points of view. In his 2016 commencement address to Howard University, he advised graduates: “There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity, and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them.”
Great listeners have the ability to make the other person feel as if they’re the only one in the room. Former President Bill Clinton was well known for his listening skills. It’s been said about him that, “He has the ability to connect with an audience and then turn around and make the person who was helping with the slideshow feel like they’re the most important person there.”
Make a point every day to listen more than you speak. Listen to employees – their feedback, their ideas, their concerns. Listen to customers – their needs and feedback may prompt your next innovative product or service, or help you improve existing offerings. And listen to what’s happening in the marketplace, you never know where the next great idea will come from.
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” –Doug Larson