When was the last time you were in a room where the problem was a shortage of talk?

Each of us has an experience, a perspective or an insight (or two) worth sharing. The challenge, at least as it relates to building productive relationships, is that some of us (I’m looking in the mirror, FYI) act like the insight is so grand as to warrant the lion’s share of attention in any room.

So there is almost never a shortage of talk.

Meanwhile, interactions where the objective is to listen, intent on learning, are rare.

If you’ve encountered anyone skilled at purposeful listening it might have made you a bit uncomfortable. It almost certainly made an impression.

There is an unusual dynamism inherent in the act of purposeful listening. Where understanding is the goal, ears perk up and take over. This makes for a different kind of interaction.

In this kind of environment collaboration has a chance to take root.

(And by the way — collaboration is a sure sign of a next-level relationship.)

A Listening Exercise

When it comes to the toughest challenges and most consequential advances, those who get things done are rarely the ones doing all the talking. But purposeful listening isn’t easy for most of us. So, if you’re game, here’s a way to practice.

  1. Identify a potentially stressful or contentious interaction you’ll face in coming days.
  2. Commit to approaching the interaction with one objective — to listen. No selling. No attempts to convert. No winning or losing. Simply learn as much as you can.
  3. Spend 80% of your talk time probing in order to deepen your learning experience.

To the degree you pull this off you will almost certainly gain insight around what drives the thought and decision-making processes of others involved. This insight is your bridge to ongoing conversations. And measurable progress.

Clearly, this requires a delay in the sharing of even your most brilliant idea. This is where that bridge comes in handy — there will be another conversation.

Admittedly, there are plenty of reasons not to go down this road. Someone has to lead. I’m expected to come to the table with a point-of-view, experience and expertise. And I sure don’t want to seed my seat at the table to someone else.

Not to mention the fact that if you’re committed to listening first, there are going to be occasions when you barely get a word in.

If you fear that failing to own a room displays weakness or affords unfair advantage to another’s point of view, consider the likelihood that minimal progress will be realized in any room where the only objective is winning the moment.

Real listening is a difficult act and a sophisticated combination of science and art. It stems from curiosity, a commitment to learn, and the relentless search for a bridge that connects diverse experiences and views.

When it seems all the talk is accomplishing little, there is almost certainly a shortage of purposeful listening.

In relationships with family, co-workers, friend or foe, the key to the change and progress we seek often lies in having the discipline to listen in order to find the elements necessary to build a bridge to on-going conversations.

And don’t worry. Become an accomplished listener and those with whom you interact will seek to hear your voice.