These days everyone has an opinion. The success of social media is literally dependent on the human desire to share thoughts. Nearly 500 million tweets are sent every day, which equates to 6,000 tweets per second. People have a lot to say, even when it’s restricted to 280 characters. But sometimes — most times actually — we need to shut up and listen instead of speaking.
Think about it: How much value are you providing by constantly talking? None. You already know whatever it is that you’re going to say. Talk is cheap. Listening is a practice that helps you learn and become a better leader.
Back when I was on Wall Street, I had a meeting that I’ll never forget. It was with a bunch of powerful pit bulls, the kinds of guys you only get one meeting with, so you better make it worth their while. I thought I nailed it, but afterwards my buddy told me exactly the opposite.
“You blew it," he said. "You did all the talking. You were checking your BlackBerry. You weren’t listening.”
My friend was right. I ended up missing out on the opportunity to do a significant deal, but it was well worth it for the lasting effect it had on me and my future endeavors. It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned, and one that I still think about often to this day.
The Value of Listening
If you’re not convinced that listening is an asset, just look at the data. Forbes reports that leaders who prefer listening are rated more positively by managers, peers, and direct reports than their counterparts, those who prefer speaking. Gallup, a leader in management and corporate development, reports that one of the best ways to change your company’s culture is through active listening. And in the acclaimed book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — one of my personal favorites — author Stephen Covey writes, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
One medium that continually teaches me the value of listening is podcasting. In my role as host of the Spartan Up! podcast, I’ve interviewed some incredible business leaders including Richard Branson, Gary Vaynerchuk, Tom Bilyeu, Melissa Urban, Arianna Huffington, and Mark Cuban. Admittedly, the format of the podcast provides a pretty easy formula for listening, but I’ve learned over the years that it’s not just about letting them talk. Rather, it’s about actively tuning in to what they’re saying.
I have access to some of the brightest minds in the world. Why on earth would I want to use that precious time to talk, when I could learn incredibly valuable lessons from them?
Broaden Your Perspective
Listening also helps you build perspective. We often surround ourselves with people who think like us, look like us, and behave like us. It’s standard evolutionary biology. But a different perspective is essential if you want to get out of your comfort zone. Exposure to new ideas literally changes the neural pathways in your brain.
In our new documentary, Exit Strategy, I try to help Cal Fussman — a lauded writer and speaker — adopt the Spartan lifestyle: train better, eat better, and live better. Throughout the film we butt heads about pretty much everything. I want him to eat broccoli, he wants bagels. I want him to run, he wants to walk. I want him to do burpees, he wants more bedtime. But there’s a point in the film where we go see a psychologist — Dr. Lara Pence, who subsequently became our Chief Mind Doc — to try to understand each other better. In this setting, we were forced to hear each other. We stopped talking and started listening. It didn’t change my opinion — I still think Cal should eat kale, run, and do burpees — but I started to see his perspective and learned that we actually share the same mission: to transform lives. Listening got me there.
It’s natural to want to talk more than listen, but ego is often the driver, and it’s off-putting. There is great value in being quiet and listening. The word Spartan actually means self-restrained, and there’s no better way to demonstrate self-restraint than to close your mouth and activate your ears.
God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason. So shut the f*** up and start listening.