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Talk Less. Do Less. Listen More. Reprioritizing Listening.


The most essential and powerful part of communication is often overlooked by leaders. It’s not just about our words or delivery; it’s about our ability to listen well and deeply. As the saying goes, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason!” 

To quote my business partner Colin Macrae in his blog Are you a Good Listener, “Listening is the duct tape of human connection and is umbilically tied to being a great leader.” 

Listening helps us see more, learn, and understand. It is also crucial for building connections and trusting relationships with our teams, peers, and others in our lives. This theme is also prevalent in much of the content we write. 

Why are we revisiting this topic? 

We have observed that in our demanding, unpredictable, and distributed work world, our listening skills are deteriorating. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a time in my long career when we have been more distracted, time-pressed, and over-extended. Many of us simply believe that we don’t have time to focus on our listening skills. 

We rush from one task to another, with no time to even take a break between meetings, let alone listen attentively, learn, gather input, and provide feedback. Even one-on-one meetings, which are arguably the best opportunity for leaders to listen, have become transactional, inconsistent, or non-existent. Let’s face it, listening takes time, and we feel like we don’t have enough of it. We are all too busy to listen! 

At least that’s what we tell ourselves. 

Not prioritizing listening as a skill has numerous negative consequences, including miscommunication, decreased productivity, missed opportunities, lack of empathy, ineffective problem-solving, and reduced team cohesion and performance. Another downside, which is particularly important to us at Fluency, is that listening is a fundamental aspect of learning and personal growth. If we don’t prioritize it, we may miss valuable opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills. And in today’s world, if we are not learning, we are falling behind. 

The Challenge with Listening 

There is a difference between hearing (the function of perceiving sound) and listening (paying attention to a message, understanding it, and responding to it either verbally or physically). 

In his book “How to Listen”, Oscar Trimboli shares the following statistics: 

Our speaking speed is 125 words per minute. 

Our listening speed is 400 words per minute. 

Our thinking speed is 900 words per minute. 

This means that we think faster than we speak and listen much faster than the speaker’s talking speed. This explains why I sometimes interrupt or finish people’s sentences (a habit I am working on to improve). 

“Because we can listen four times faster than they can speak, it creates temptations for the listener such as anticipating, judging, distraction and drifting away, problem-solving or fixing the person – all while waiting for the speaker’s words to catch up with them,” says Trimboli. 

He also explains that for the speaker, the gap is even wider because we can think nine times faster than we speak. This means that we can only express about 14 percent of what we are thinking. And what we initially express is often a narrow perspective and rarely the whole story or the real challenge. Therefore, as leaders, if we are distracted, in a hurry, and latching onto the first thing that is said, we are not truly listening, and we are missing important social and emotional cues. These missed opportunities are where we can show empathy or offer support. 

The Myth of Multi-Tasking 

Divided attention is the first barrier to effective listening. 

The proverb “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one” teaches us about the power of focus. Doing two things at once divides our attention and spreads our cognitive resources thin, making it difficult to fully focus on and process the information we are supposed to be listening to. 

There is a relationship between listening and working memory. Working memory is located in the most modern part of the brain and is where the brain processes human communication and listening. 

In the book “How To Listen,” we are introduced to Stephen Van Der Stigchel, a psychologist and global expert on attention and how to effectively focus it. He explains that working memory is fragile, finite, and easily overwhelmed. That’s why when we externalize our thoughts by writing them down or saying them aloud, we create space in our working memory. 

“To effectively listen, rather than just hear, you need to comprehend, remember, and contribute to the conversation. Therefore, you will be using the majority of your working memory. To effectively use your working memory, you need to bring your available attention into focus and minimize distractions, including electronic devices.” 

Three Ways to be a Better Listener 

Tune Up to Tune In: Our mindset sets the tone. Trimboli suggests that no matter how strongly you intend to bring your attention and focus to a conversation, listening begins before you even enter the discussion. He compares it to an orchestra taking a few minutes to tune before a performance. Tuning is a sign of discipline, self-respect, and mutual respect. It’s the space where we can recalibrate, breathe, write down thoughts for later, anticipate and minimize distractions. 

“Taking 3 minutes to prepare, paradoxically, will shorten discussions because you won’t be distracted by subconscious thoughts, feelings, or the need to interrupt, fix, or drift away. When you are ready to listen, it creates a space for you and the speaker.” 

Have no other place to be: Once tuned, we can enter spaces with the readiness to focus and give our undivided attention. Trimboli explains that it is our presence and the orientation of our attention as listeners that transform the quality of thinking in the room. “When speakers experience what your attention brings to the discussion, they notice it, mention it, and ultimately mirror it when they listen to you.” Being fully present is essential. Nothing says “you don’t matter” like a leader who is checking email while someone is speaking. For more tips on how to be present and show up with presence, you can read our blog on Leadership at a Distance, How to Be There When You’re Not There. 

Hold space and silence: For those who have participated in our learning sessions, you know that Colin and I are comfortable with holding silence. I must admit, getting to this point was not an easy journey for me, as I wrote about in The Power of Silence in Leadership. What’s Your Relationship with it. The value of silence is that it allows people to think, process, and respond. According to Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think, we live in an interrupting culture, and interrupting diminishes our thinking. As leaders, to elicit the best thinking from our people, we need to say less, ask more, and become comfortable with holding silence. 


One thing we know for sure is that time is undefeated. It is unstoppable. The best we can do is adapt and make the most of the 24 hours we have each day. A leader who can give their undivided attention when listening will reap huge benefits in their leadership and work relationships. 

What would change if you made more time for listening? 

How do others perceive your listening skills? 

What is one area of listening that you could improve if you focused on it? 

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