Whether in business or in your personal life, a lot can be gained by learning when to keep quiet.
Once you’ve landed the sale, it’s time to stop talking, says Eric Chen, a business professor at the University of St. Joseph. “All you can do at this point is lose the business. So, clam up,” he says.
Being a good listener can sometimes give you a strategic advantage, especially if the person you’re negotiating with slips and says something they weren’t intending to say. But chances are neither of these situations can happen if your mouth is moving. So for those of us who can be too talkative for our own good, here are four tips for better listening:
“Companies with leaders who are excellent listeners outperform their competition by a factor of three,” says Marian Thier, cofounder of Listening Impact LLC, a Colorado based management consulting firm. She coaches her clients to “plan” their listening, which involves understanding how they listen, as well as tailoring their preferences to how others communicate (as opposed to expecting everyone else to listen as they do). Then, create a plan. She suggests asking yourself questions like:
- What’s the purpose of the interaction?
- What do you stand to learn? (Come prepared with three questions to add to your knowledge.)
- What three points can you contribute that will bring value to others?
Silence can be uncomfortable, which is why people often try to fill it, Chen says. Resist the urge. “Our society rewards people that talk a lot. We’ve forgotten how to listen,” he says. But listening is critical and silence can be a powerful tool, particularly in negotiations, Chen says.
Silence can buy you time to think and, if your counterpart is uncomfortable with silence, they may divulge something they didn’t want to disclose. By being present and listening to what’s being said (as opposed to thinking about what you want to say next), you’re in a better position to respond.
Listening isn’t just about hearing the words, but what’s being communicated around them, says Trish McDermott, a San Francisco-based public relations consultant. Pay attention to the speaker’s body language cues to help you better process what’s being said. Instead of forming an answer halfway through someone’s question, hear them out first, McDermott says.
Amy Ogden, vice president of Brand Development for J Public Relations, a bicoastal PR firm, suggests looking the speaker in the eye and visualizing the words they’re saying (think closed captioning on your TV or thought bubbles in a cartoon). This helps to focus your attention on their message and away from planning your response, she says.