I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t stop talking. I had been in his office for a full 45 minutes, and he had not stopped once to ask anyone else’s thoughts or even to get a response. Finally, the meeting came to a close and I had the fortunate—or unfortunate—opportunity to meet with him one on one.
My first question (as his friend and “outside guy”) was, “What did you learn in the meeting today?” He stumbled over his words, looking for something to say. The answer was obvious: he hadn’t learned anything. The meeting had ended up being about his audience and his thoughts. This was a lost opportunity for sure.
Then, I thought back on my own career development and how many times I had done the same thing—sad, but true. All of this raises the great question, “How much should we talk and when should we simply be quiet?”
First, what is the context? If you are a comedian onstage, then you have the stage and you can talk all you want. But, if you are an executive, a salesperson, a spouse, a parent or a friend, then the rules are a little different. Talking has a rhythm to it. There is a give and take, unless you are lecturing in a class. Even then, the most effective teachers will use the appropriate rhythm.
Let me give you some thoughts on how you can rate yourself on your “talking quotient.” We have an in-depth tool that measures these traits, but I’ll start with a few thoughts to consider. First, if you get energy from conversation and being around people, then those behaviors will make you more prone to socializing. Second, if you also have low self-control, then you will tend toward being impulsive in your conversations and easily get off-task or waste time. Third, if you like being onstage or the center of attention, then you will certainly enjoy controlling the “microphone,” which means you will tend to dominate the discussion. This can even happen with clients.
Great salespeople tend to have these characteristics. They tend to enjoy presenting and being onstage. They tend to have lower self-control, which makes them respond quickly to opportunities. They also genuinely enjoy being around other people. This means you had better learn that you are NOT to be the focus of the presentation. Listening is perhaps the toughest thing for salespeople to do. They tend to talk past the close and oversell their product.
Salespeople often do not hear the needs of the customer because they are focusing on the qualities of their product. Guess what? It’s not about you or your product. It’s about the customer, their needs and their concerns. You won’t know what those concerns are unless you develop the ability to listen and ask great questions. “Where are you having the most struggles? What are the biggest needs you have in your organization at this time? What are the toughest obstacles you are facing? What are your upcoming concerns as you look at the short-term future?” These are the questions they want to hear, and these are the questions you really want them to answer so you can address their needs.
If you call me asking for a meeting and say you are a salesperson, good luck getting a positive response. However, I love meeting with people who are concerned about my company and my team’s needs. I like meeting with people who want to “serve” us.
As the senior officer in our company, I want to use these same concepts with my team. I consider them my customers, and my first goal is to know what their needs are. I want to be certain that they have all they require in order to execute the mission of the company. I have learned that the best way to know what they need is to ask great questions and be sure that they are talking more than 50% of the time when we are together. I really believe that great listeners end up with the most information. If you want to “sell” your ideas, be sure that they tend to the needs of those around you. They’ll keep coming back for more, and that makes for great long-term customers.
This article was published in February 2010 and has been updated. Photo by