Listen First - Speak Last

Communicating is an art

I believe that it is impossible to communicate too much in a business. You will run out of time first. People want to be communicated with. They want to know how they are doing and how the business is doing. More than anything, they want to be heard. Listening is perhaps the most important part of communicating, and the rule of listening is listen first and speak last. It sounds easy, but it isn't. 

I can remember when I was running a business opening a meeting as follows: "Here is the problem and some of the ways that we might go about solving it. Let's go around the room and get everyone's ideas about it." Sounds good, but it's too late. Everyone knew what I thought and did not feel comfortable expressing a different view. I should have said something like "Here is the problem and I would like to have your thoughts about how to solve it." and then shut up. 

While you are listening, if you agree with someone do not nod yes. If you disagree, do not nod no. Simply listen until everyone has had their opportunity to express their feelings. Listen first, speak last. All you are allowed to do is ask questions so that you can understand why they feel the way they do. Steve Covey said it best in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. "Seek first to understand, and then to be understood."

People want to feel like they have been heard without being judged. That they have been understood. That's why body language and facial expressions are so important when you are listening. If you openly agree or disagree with what a person is saying, everyone else in the room will sense it and be cautious when it is their turn. Any chance of open sharing of opinions is lost. 

I have learned a great deal in the years since I ran a business and if I knew it all then I would have been more successful. If I had been a better listener I would have had the benefit of more ideas. If I had always listened first and talked last people would have felt more included. 

Effective communication is a quality of good leaders. Click on the following link to read what I think are the other nine things that good leaders do well. Give yourself a score of from one to ten for each attribute and then pledge to work on those that are not a ten. Better yet, ask your employees to rate you as well. Listen to what they say, learn, and improve. 

Top ten things leaders do well (pdf)

Tracy Bech