Why You Should Speak Less and Listen More

| | General Leadership
Why You Should Speak Less and Listen More

When I was growing up, I remember feeling more uneasy when my parents got very quiet than when they were speaking loudly about their displeasure with something I or my brother had done. As a proponent of speaking up as an act of leadership, it is perhaps ironic that I learned at a very young age how silence can sometimes speak loudly.

Consider that when it comes to leadership, though, there are times when it is more effective to choose silence over speaking up with your words. The silence I am referring to is not to be confused, however, with the silence used for the purpose of actively ignoring someone or as a way to shun or silence them. Using silence as an act of leadership is always for the purpose of making a difference.

In ‘Leading Can Be Silent,’ I offer a number of ways you can actually lead silently. Some of my personal favorites from this article are:

…Listening generously in a way that has someone experience being fully heard and supported, so that they walk away believing in themselves and their ability to make a bigger difference than they ever imagined.

…Letting go of the urge to direct or take control, believing others are capable and allowing someone else to step up into the void to take the lead.

…Knowing when not to speak, so others can rise to the occasion and take the lead.

However, it is also important to note that there is a big difference between leading with silence and actively silencing someone.

We have recently witnessed a few highly visible examples of attempts to silence someone. Unfortunately, attempting to silence anyone will more often than not have unintended consequences, as we have seen in both the cases of Milo Yiannopulos being prevented from speaking by riots at University of California and Elizabeth Warren being silenced by Rule 19 on the Senate floor.

Whether you agree or disagree with either of them, in the United States our Constitution expressly empowers freedom of speech.

The right to speak up is more than a constitutional amendment — it is a cultural commitment and a widely embraced norm at many levels of our society.

Shut someone’s voice down, no matter how much you dislike or are offended by the message or the messenger, and you are more likely to draw attention to the very thing you wanted to silence than achieve the objective of actually keeping them quiet. There’s a actually a name for this phenomena. It’s been called The Streisand Effect.

However, this applies not only in the public arena. It applies behind the walls of organizations large and small, as well. Attempts to stifle dissent and discord only drive those conversations, and the emotions they evoke, into the shadows. This actually tends to build the pressure of the discontent rather than quell it. More often than not, it’s only a matter of time until the tension building beneath the surface will blow.

Consider that it is only when you are able to listen well enough and long enough for people to feel heard, that the underlying tension will be released. No matter how hard you try, you can’t prevent a volcano that is about to blow from erupting. Attempts at silencing anyone or anything in a culture that reveres free speech is like trying to put a lid on that volcano. Leading by listening, on the other hand, has the power to reduce the pressure and let off at least some of the steam.

Keep in mind that silence as an act of leadership is far from passive — it is an act of actively and generously listening. It requires the discipline of listening for what is needed to contribute to progress or make a difference in the things that matter most in this moment. It requires being present to what is vs. how you would like things to be. Sometimes the best thing a leader can do is let people speak up and speak out, despite their personal feelings about what is being said or how it is being said.

When you feel the tension in a conversation, whether with the spoken or the unspoken, try speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at how this one simple strategy can quickly turn a conversation about what’s wrong into a conversation about what we can do to make things better.


Image Copyright: sangoiri / 123RF Stock Photo


Enter A Comment

Ebenezer   |   10 February 2017   |   Reply

Suzan I like your insight about leadership. Am an upcoming motivational speaker,family orientation and many more and my first book yet to be published. I like you because you speak wisdom- from Ghana

Susan Mazza   |   15 February 2017   |   Reply

Thanks so much Ebenezer! What is the title of your book and when will it come out? Please let me know when it is available.

Elaine Fotiadis   |   13 February 2017   |   Reply

It definitely takes discipline to let the other person complete their thoughts before responding. I’m consciously aware that I sometimes interrupt – so I make sure I jot down my thought as the person is speaking so that when it is my turn to speak, I remember what I wanted to say. This pause often allows me more time to say what I wanted to say more eloquently.

Susan Mazza   |   15 February 2017   |   Reply

Jotting down your thoughts as the person is speaking is a great way to manage your mind while listening! Thanks for taking the time to comment Elaine. Nice to see you here!

yirga   |   21 February 2017   |   Reply

I completely agree with concept of speak less and listen more. when you observe the way we are created it proves the idea of lass and more….we have two ears to listen more and one mouth to speak less……learning from our nature is very important.

Susan Mazza   |   24 February 2017   |   Reply

2 ears, one mouth…exactly! Thanks for your comment Yirga!

Margaret   |   22 February 2017   |   Reply


Susan Mazza   |   24 February 2017   |   Reply

Good to hear Margaret. Thanks!