Do You Listen More Than You Talk?

To connect with your team, you must listen 80% of the time.

Early in my leadership career, I thought that it was the leader’s role to do most of the talking when in conversation with my team, or as individuals. I thought it was the leader’s role to stamp their authority on the team, and that the team should listen to the leader.

This was a big mistake on my part because we now know that the leader’s role is to do the exact opposite.

1. What Is The Leader’s Role?

I didn’t know what I didn’t know back then, but I was continually learning, and I learned quite fast that it wasn’t up to me to do most of the talking (20% of the talking). It was up to me to do most of the listening (80% of the listening).

I thought of myself as the “expert” because I was in the leadership position. But I was by no means the “expert”. I had a team full of experts, so I should have listened to my experts a lot more, and leveraged their expertise.

Download My E-Book “Increase Your Influence” For Free

When I started reading leadership books and taking my leadership development more seriously, my listening skills started to improve. I was also improving at letting my team members do 80% of the talking in our conversations.

Especially when we were talking about their frustrations, or personal issues. My leadership styles were improving every day, as I worked on myself every day.

Asking questions of my team, rather than giving them the answers or suggestions was something I developed too. Especially open questions that would enable my team member to draw out more information from inside themselves, and eventually work out the solutions themselves with my guidance.

By doing this I was respecting my people, and they would respect me because I listened to them.

When asking your team members questions and helping them draw out their own answers and conclusions, it takes more time than just telling them the answers. But, it is worth taking more time because you are going beyond communicating when you listen 80% of the time.

2. Connecting With Your Team

You are connecting with your team. When connecting you are increasing your influence, and building up stronger trust with them.

What you will find is, when you make stronger connections with your team, they will become more successful. They will achieve more, so again it is definitely worth taking more time with them by asking them open questions (what?, who?, where?, why?, how?).

When the team start to become more successful and achieving more than they thought, you will find it even easier to get them to buy-in to you, your ideas, and any changes you want to implement.

You and the team will grow together, and you will grow closer. You will no longer need to set the direction for the team, they will happily follow you on their own down the right direction.

The team will choose to stand beside you and unite as one team. When that happens, you will know that your influence is increasing with the team every day.

To return the team’s loyalty, trust and faith in me as the leader, I would do my best to help the team as much as I could. I would help them to solve their problems. I would support them and use my leverage to promote any new ideas that the team had.

I would ensure that my presence wasn’t an obstacle to them at any time. I would remove obstacles for the team when they needed me to. I would constantly be available to listen to the team. I would continue to ask the team open questions when it was necessary.

There were occasions when I would let team members lead the team, and myself when it was needed. When I listened to the team I was being led. By listening to them team, I was creating leaders. By writing this article for you and building this website, I want to create a highly effective leader out of you.

3. How I Changed My Leadership Perspective

Since working in the engineering sections of the rail industry, one thing I have always been associated with is train performance. Have trains performed well in service? Was there any delays? Was there any failures/breakdowns? Was there any cancellations?

What has been the worst performing train this month? What component has caused the most failures this month? What are we doing to improve performance?

These are all questions that I heard every day as part of the rail industry. When I was engineering technical manager working in London, there was one particular fleet of trains that had been performing very badly for about three months straight in 2016.

The leaders of the business wanted to know why. So they arranged a meeting for my managers and I to present to them the reasons for poor performance, and what we were doing about it.

There were so many reasons for the fleets poor performance; doors failing, couplers not interlocking properly, brakes issues, wheelsets wearing, etc. This fleet had been poor for years, but the engineering team had just done enough to keep it going.

They didn’t go the extra mile to work as a team to improve their own, and the train’s performance beyond expectations.

4. Listening More Than Talking

I knew I had a challenge on my hands. So, instead of laying into the team and demanding ideas of them, me doing most of the talking, I decided I would change it around. I decided I would let them tell me, and I would listen to what they thought.

I wanted to find out from them why they hadn’t gone beyond expectations. I wanted to know their ideas so we could implement them and turn performance around.

The team felt like they had never been listened to before, so it was difficult to get them to open up at first. This was new territory to them, they didn’t know whether I was trying to manipulate them, or if I was being genuine. So, I stopped.

I decided that it was up to them to come back to me with a solution on how to improve performance, and they were going to present to the senior leaders.

When I made this decision, the team were not happy at all. They didn’t want to work on this as a team, and they didn’t want to present to senior leaders.

So, they got together in a meeting room to brainstorm their ideas, but all they did was bad mouth me for making them do this. They couldn’t come out with any ideas, so they wasted the whole time they were in the room together supposedly brainstorming.

So, when I went in to their “brainstorming session” and found that they were just moaning, instead of working, I thought I would try again to get them to open up. I asked them open questions, and then would listen to them.

For about three hours I listened to the team tell me why they shouldn’t be doing this, why the trains performance will never improve, why the fleet of trains should be scrapped. Every negativity that they could come up, I listened to for three hours.

So, I made another decision. I decided that I agreed with what they were saying. I said to them, “Ok guys, if that’s what you’re telling me, then we can’t go any further. Let’s end the session here.” They were surprised at my reaction because they were expecting me to fly off the handle.

Download My E-Book “Increase Your Influence” For Free

But, I didn’t. I then told them, “Make sure that when you present to the senior leaders that you tell them there is nothing we can do.” They looked at me and said, “We can’t say that to the bosses, they will fire us.”

I said, “You’re right. But, you have decided there is nothing you can do, and I don’t lie to my bosses. So make sure you tell them the truth.”

Straight away, they decided they will start the brainstorming session again and come up with a solution. So, I left them to it. The next day, they had a full presentation of the reasons for poor performance, and three new modification ideas that would help the trains to improve their performance.

When they implemented the new modifications later in the year, the train’s performance improved. All by working together as a team.

Leadership is about people, not numbers. Taking care of the numbers will not take care of the people. Taking care of the people will take care of the numbers.

I welcome hearing how this post has influenced the way you think, the way you lead, or the results you have achieved because of what you’ve learned in it. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below.

Check out my other articles by Clicking HERE

All the best,

Tom (Lead, Grow, Influence)

30 thoughts on “Do You Listen More Than You Talk?

    1. Hi Jason,

      Thank you for your comment. Really happy you found it a good article.

      I’m glad that this has reminded you to listen more often, and not to get drawn into discussions and overtake. Especially when talking to someone who could learn from you.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  1. Hey Tom,

    Great article. I 100% agree. I have worked with people who doesn’t listen at all and it is terrible to work with them. The examples you give here are also great. Good luck with your website.

    Rajith

    1. Hi Rajith,

      Thank you for your comment. Really pleased you found it valuable.

      It is really tough to work with people who don’t listen, especially when those people are in the leadership position.

      Thanks for the luck. All the best,

      Tom

  2. HI Tom.
    So I decided that I’m going to read as many books as I can. Along with that decision, I also stop reading fiction. I started reading self-improvement and business books.
    Reading your post has a lot of common with those books. Most of them reference a Pareto Efficiency or so-called 20-80 rule.
    I assume that you read similar books. Can you recommend some of your favorites? Or a few that had a great impact on your life.
    Thanks
    Srdjan

    1. Hi Srdjan,

      Thank you for your comment. Really pleased you found the article valuable.

      I do read lots of leadership and personal growth books. My favourite authors are Simon Sinek, John Maxwell, Stephen Covey.

      The books I would recommend for a start are: Shoe Dog (Story of Nike) and Emotional Equations by Chip Conley. They would be a great start for you.

      All the best with it and if you have anymore questions then don’t hesitate to ask.

      Tom

  3. Such a great post! I myself have never been in leadership position, but even working with colleagues who are at your same level, I still think it’s beneficial to listen more instead of speaking more. You can learn so much about a person or a group if you just stand back and actively listen to what they are talking about. And I really enjoyed the example you laid out in your story, what a great way to motivate a group and have them feel empowered to find a solution. Thank you so much for sharing this insight on this topic, great work!

    1. Hi Dereck,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you found the article and my examples valuable.

      You are quite right, you don’t need to be in a leadership position and still lead others. Practicing your listening skills with colleagues, or even friends and family is a great way to continuously improve.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep listening.

      All the best,

      Tom

  4. Great post. One of the challenges I came across in my position working with independent sales reps was getting their attention and getting them to engage. I agree whole-heatedly on the point that we need to listen more… and that’s a challenge for me in certain situations, too often I find myself saying inside my head “stop talking!”. Get them to engage. I had not considered this from the lead/manage a team perspective…good stuff, thanks!

    1. Hi Bob,

      Thank you for your comment. Really pleased that you found the article valuable.

      Actively listening is an essential leadership skill, but you do not need to be in a leadership position to practice your skills. Working with sales reps is a great way to practice because as you say, they do a lot of talking.

      Thank you for sharing your example.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  5. Hi Tom,

    Great post, and I couldn’t agree more with your strategy. I’ve had the privilege to work abroad, and I’ve also noticed that there’s a cultural difference in how we deal with authority. Here in Sweden, it’s a very open-minded and relaxed atmosphere. It’s not unusual for “a worker” to openly disagree with the boss in a meeting. It’s the same in Denmark, but quite the opposite in Finland.

    Best regards,
    Michel

    1. Hi Michel,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really pleased that you found the article helpful.

      It’s great that you have worked abroad and experienced all different kinds of leadership styles. You will have learned lots and no doubt practice what you have learned in your current roles.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  6. Listening is such an important skill and really does gain respect. Asking questions shows that you care and want others to improve. This is a very good article and so informative for becoming a better leader!

    Thank you! 🙂

    1. Hi Sarae,

      Thank you for your comment. Really pleased that you found the article informative.

      Asking questions is really important, as long as they are the right questions that are helpful. The best questions are open questions that makes the other person think differently and come up with solutions to any problems they have. It is a lot like a coaching style.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  7. HI Tom. Very good article. I believe that your best decision was: “I decided I would let them tell me, and I would listen to what they thought”.
    I can relate to that as well cause i have learned it the hard way. As soon as i realized that i should listen more and talk less, it has open new doors for me. And not only at my job but also in personal relationships. Starting from home and then to my friends circle.
    Keep it up! Very interesting!

    1. Hi Ioannis,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really pleased you found the article helpful.

      It’s great that you thought my best decision was to listen to my people because that is exactly what the message in this article was. I needed to let them tell me their thoughts so I would be able to make a better decision.

      I love that the more you have listened to others it has helped to open doors for you. Keep it up.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  8. Hi Tom,
    I really like your article and I think any conversation can benefit from both parties having the ability to listen. I admit I can talk. So practicing being slow to speak was a challenge for me. However, I realized that being able to listen to others is a very effective trait in communication. It helps you to effectively answer questions and keeps you from jumping to conclusions. As a leader, you must lead by example and if you are able to show you are paying attention to your group you will be more effective at teaching them how to do the same and respect others. Thanks for the great post and keep moving forward.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Thank you for your comment, and for sharing your own experiences.

      Actively listening does take a while to become good at, and it is difficult to stay silent in a conversation that we are passionate about. But, as you have said, if we keep practicing we will become better at it.

      Listening is so important when communicating, and especially when we are leading others. Listening more than we talk is definitely leading by example, and if our people see us doing this, then they will follow our lead.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  9. Do you listen more than you talk is a really important post everyone should read several times to absorb all the information, and as a business mentor I have learned you must really listen to those you are helping and never think you know everything?

    I provide suggestions from my own experience, but I never make the decision to those I am helping for free

    Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for your comment, and it’s great that you think this topic is important.

      As a mentor, it is extremely important that we listen with care to our people, so that we can offer the best help we can.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  10. Hi Tom,

    I enjoyed reading your article. I could not agree more with what you said. I strongly believe that you cannot succeed in any areas in your life if you are not willing to learn how to listen.
    Unfortunately, listening is a skill that many have forgotten. But it should be the foundation of any relationship.

    Thank you very much for reminding me how important is to listen before we talk.

    Kind regards,

    Yoana

    1. Hi Yoana,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s my pleasure to be able to help you and remind you.

      You are right, many people do not practice actively listening and they have forgotten how to do it. It is a commitment of mine to help people remember how to do this.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  11. I think one common misconceptions of people when they just get promoted to a leadership position is precisely as you say that the leader needs to do most of the talking. The organization will often also have a culture that obliges the most senior person in any meeting to take the lead and set the direction etc. In my organization we recently started essentially a whole raft of organizational development initiatives and one that has actually taken off is just regular open dialogue sessions with a randomly selected group of around 12 people. We are over a 1,000 strong so this has a long way to go. As one of the managers I get to co-facilitate with a staff rep. There is no set agenda and as facilitators we are just there to get people to start talking – often by asking open ended questions. It is amazing to see how after about half an hour people start to open up. It is like opening flood gates.
    Thanks for a great piece on such an important, one could say the most important component of the communications skills suite. Best, Andy

    1. Hi Andy,

      Thank you so much again for your very thorough comment, and thank you for sharing what is happening in your organisation.

      I really hope the organisational development initiatives go well. I’m guessing it might be a bit more difficult while we are in lock down, but if you and your colleagues are passionate enough, you will make it work. All the best with it. It would be great to hear how it’s going.

      Asking open questions is the best way to get people to open up, you are right. It’s also really good to help people to think up their own solutions to their problems, rather than asking others for the solution.

      If you need any help or advice on your organisational initiatives then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  12. Hi Tom,

    Great article as always. I think people believe they’re good listeners, but in fact, many of them are just preoccupied with their phone or else just constantly interjecting in when a person is talking. I know sometimes it can be hard to listen, especially when you/they have exciting news but there are certain times when you need to hold your tongue. Your anecdote also puts it into perspective, so thanks for including that.

    Sharon

    1. Hi Sharon,

      Thank your for your comment. It is my absolute pleasure to write this article for you.

      You have hit the nail on the head with me. I cannot stand it when people are looking at their phones during a conversation with me, or in a meeting. When they are looking at their phones, it is impossible for them to actively listen.

      If you need any further advice then please let me know. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.

      Keep returning, keep engaging, and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  13. Hi,

    Wow, that post illuminated a lot of things for me. I thought to be a leader you always have to lead and talk, but clearly the is not the case.

    Thanks a lot

    Vlad

    1. Hi Vlad,

      Thank you for your comment. Really pleased that you found it valuable.

      It’s great that the article has made you think a little differently. Go through my other articles too and you will learn even more in your area of leadership, personal growth and influence.

      If you need any further help or advice then don’t hesitate to contact me.

      All the best,

      Tom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *