One of the most important roles in Standing Out as a Thought Leader is knowing when to Stand Down.

Every thought leader will experience times when it is more important to listen than to speak.


Listening is essential to understanding how your message is being heard by your audience and followers. It’s not unusual for a passionate person to want to make sure to say all that they want and to be understood. But just as important as having your message understood is understanding how your message is being received by others. And the only way to gain that understanding is by listening and getting real-time feedback.

You might think listening is easy. All you need to do is stop talking and give the other person a chance to say what’s on their mind. But true open listening, as we call it, takes focus, concentration and a willingness to be open to new information or feedback about your ideas. Why is open listening difficult? According to Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, our tendency is to do one of four things when another person responds to what we have said: 

Evaluate: We judge what someone is saying and agree or disagree. Probe: We ask questions from your own frame of reference. Advise: We give counsel, advice, or solutions to problems. Interpret: We analyze others’ motives and behaviors based on our own experiences. “If you’re like most people,” Covey writes, “you probably seek first to be understood. You want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation, or focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.” Another reason that open listening is hard for most of us is that our brains think several times faster than people speak, as much as four times faster, according to one source. That means while we’re able to listen at 400 words per minute, the average person can only speak at about 100-150 words per minute. That leaves lots of time for our brains to be thinking of something else, to get impatient or be distracted.

The solution? Focus. Just listen and be open to whatever the other person says. Don’t think about what you will say next or how you might respond to further emphasize your point. To quote Stephen Covey again, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” When we truly listen openly, we can review and summarize the main points of the other’s comments or question and then respond appropriately.

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