#Adulting: Silence is a Virtue

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”    ~Stephen R. Covey 

We are all guilty of it – preparing our crafted response in a conversation before the person talking has even finished what they are saying. It’s human nature to want to give the best possible answer or to prove your worth, but there are many times that your response might not be what it should have (or could have) been if you had paused to listen. Even saying something as simple as, “Well that’s OK…my [problem] is worse than yours,” does not make the speaker feel better – it actually makes them feel less significant. You have proven two things by that statement: 1. You don’t care about their problems, and 2. You have made them feel as if their problem really isn’t a problem – when, in reality, it is important to them and therefore should be important to you. 

I’m sure that you’ve heard the phrase, “you’re not listening to me.” What does that mean? I realize this sounds cliché, but when was the last time you actually HEARD what someone was saying? When did you give pause before your response so that you could absorb the content of the information for which you’re being told? When was the last time you sat in class and looked at your professor while they were talking and contemplate the impact of the material being presented would have on your life or potential career?  

We spend a good portion of our time thinking ahead. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave us lacking in the ‘be present’ category. However, we also spend a good deal of time thinking about things that don’t matter or that are detrimental to our well-being. Which does us no good! 

There are true benefits to being a good listener – especially in the workplace. You can look all over the internet to find a host of benefits, I found five that I’d like to share from Marcel Schwantes, Founder and Chief Human Officer, Leadership from the Core (link to full article at the end of this blog): 

  1. Mutual Trust: Authentic listening generates respect and trust between talker and listener. Employees will naturally respond better to managers who they think are listening intently to their needs. 
  2. Productivity: Problems are solved faster if people are encouraged to explain problems and be given the freedom to work through solutions out loud before being told what to do. 
  3. Cooler heads prevail: Listening intently helps both sides to stay cool – and helps them cool off – when they are dealing with a crisis or discussing a sensitive issue. 
  4. Boosts confidence: Great listeners tend to have better self-esteem and self-image because, in their listening, they work toward establishing positive relationships. 
  5. Fewer mistakes: Good listening leads to more accuracy in retaining information. You’ll remember important facts later on, minimizing the risk of miscommunication and making mistakes. 

If you find yourself a consistent non-listener there are many ways to become a conscious listener. The first is to PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY! Nothing is more distracting than a digital screen flashing on a table or vibrating in your bag. I was out one night and saw two people on a date and they weren’t looking at each other – they were texting. It went on for 30 minutes. That’s not healthy.  

Another great way to work on listening is to work on eye contact. Not that creepy, stare into your eyes, kind of eye contact. Let your speaker know that you are engaged. Show some facial expressions – like smiling when they say something you agree with or wincing when a joke is really bad. Stay engaged in the conversation – instead of giving immediate input, ask questions! Don’t pretend like you know everything or try to be a mind-reader, let the speaker explain so that you can come to a better understanding. 

Finally, practice being quiet. I talk. A LOT. I must make a very deliberate effort to keep my mouth closed and pay attention to what’s going on around me. When I was young, my mom would always say, “Silence is a virtue,” and I never really got it. It took me well into my college years to learn that keeping my thoughts to myself (when appropriate) allowed me opportunities to build lasting relationships with people, professors, colleagues, and friends. I have learned that silence is not just a gift to others, but to myself. 

“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”  ~Proverb 

Reference: 

Schwantes, Marcel. (2016, October 6). Retrieved from: https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/not-a-good-listener-these-5-immediate-workplace-benefits-may-change-your-mind.html 

By Lisa Milne
Lisa Milne Career Coach Lisa Milne