You Can’t Learn Anything with Your Mouth Open

by  Brent Sprinkle  |  Self Leadership

I was sitting in a coffee shop writing a post and there was interview going on at the next table. What struck me, as I tried to write, was the amount of time the interviewer spent talking to versus listening to the interviewee. He would ask a question and as soon as she started to reply, he would pick up on a word or phrase and would ‘fill in the blanks’. All she had to do was agree with him. I couldn’t help thinking how well he would think she did with the interview, when in fact, he wasn’t learning much about her at all. That’s when my mom’s advice ricocheted off in my head again –

You can’t learn anything with your mouth open.

I know people who get very uneasy when the conversation pauses. They feel like they have to fill to void by speaking themselves, but there are times to speak and times to be quiet and listen. I know you have to ask questions when interviewing someone, but be patient and give the interviewee ample time to respond – some people actually think about what they say, before they say it. And how they handle the ‘awkward pause’ can be foretelling as well.

Another great time to focus on listening is when you’re networking. Ask questions but let the conversation be more about listening to what they have to tell you, not what you think you need to tell them. Ask questions to figure out what they need or what they are struggling with. Then figure out how you, or your network, can help them solve their problem – not how you can make a sale.

The concept also applies to your presentation material – put less material on your slides, it forces people to listen to you rather than read. HBB recently blogged about this very thing In Presentations, Learn to Say Less. It’s also a good practice to blank out your screen while you are making your point(s) – your connection with the audience will be much stronger.

Some people like to talk and some people like to listen – which one are you? and how has that impacted your practice?


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What People Are Saying

Christina Haxton  |  30 Jan 2012  |  Reply

It’s true … we can’t talk and really deeply listen at the same time, it’s impossible. It’s also true that when we are thinking inside of our head (to come up with the defense, comeback or smart response) while the other person is talking, we’ve also stopped listening then, too. Thank you for the excellent post, Brent!

Brent Sprinkle  |  31 Jan 2012  |  Reply

Great point Christine, trying to ‘think ahead’ is too often the standard approach. Listen, Pause (ie think), and then Respond – will give both people a little reflection time… Thanks for the comment.

Marguerite Granat  |  01 Feb 2012  |  Reply

Brent, what a great story you share! I’m in recruiting and have been coaching hiring managers for years to listen 80% and speak less than 20% of the time. When a hiring manager makes a hiring decision based on listening to his own voice rather than listening to the candidate-this is a recipe for disaster. Thanks for the great reminder to listen intently and focus more on others rather than to our own voice. Fantastic post!!

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