Entrepreneurs, do yourselves a huge favor: stop talking.
Some of the biggest breakthroughs I’ve had in my professional life have come not when I opened my mouth, but used my ears.
In a world drowning with so-called thought leaders, gurus and experts, everyone is so ready to talk, but unwilling to listen. The fact is that listening is one of the most important “soft skills” for an entrepreneur.
Some studies show that we spend as much as 45 percent of our day listening. But how much are you really retaining?
Input, not output
By listening, I don’t mean simply waiting for your turn to talk. I mean truly taking in the words of a trusted advisor or employee.
Listening is a skill that has set Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apart from his peers. In Facebook’s infancy, Jim Breyer (Managing Partner of Accel Ventures) said that Zuckerberg’s ability to listen is one of his greatest strengths. Breyer talked about how so many entrepreneurs would come to Facebook’s headquarters and be all about their own output — not thoughtfulness.
Breyer said that the skill that set great entrepreneurs apart from the pack is listening, and the ability to turn that into active learning. Zuckerberg, after some growing pains, is now regarded as one of the brightest young entrepreneurs in the world today.
I’m not only focusing on the words the other person is saying, but picking up on non-verbal cues. A UCLA study shows that as much as 55 percent of communication in face-to-face interactions is non-verbal. If you don’t know how to read these cues, you could be totally lost.
I got to where I am not by talking my way through ideas, but from listening to mentors and peers. I’m a big believer in having trusted mentors, and truly taking their ideas to heart. I know that when I’m in a discussion with my mentor, I’m there to listen. I wish more entrepreneurs took this approach to conversation.
Open yourself to new ideas
If you’re the one doing most of the talking in your meetings, it’s time to change that. While you may have some great ideas about how to run your company, there’s one thing you don’t have — a macro view.
Listening to your team is vital for a successful business venture. You’ve hired these people for a reason. Listening to their ideas is the reward for all the time you spent searching for the right fit.
When you close your mouth and listen, you learn about problems and solutions from another viewpoint. Sometimes, that makes all the difference.
When you aren’t devoting time to listening, those great ideas from your staff could walk right out the door — and into your competition’s lap.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose mind just moves at a faster pace than most people, knows the power of listening. Musk recently took advice from a fifth grader on Twitter, who offered a great marketing idea for the electric car company.
When you’re always listening, solutions can come from anywhere.
Listening to understand, not to respond
Listening to truly understand, not just waiting for your turn to join the conversation, is absolutely critical. I hate CEOs and business leaders who make meetings about themselves, only pretending to listen.
I’m a big believer in the power of learning. That’s why I’m a voracious reader, whether that means trade publications or the works of Seth Godin. I don’t take my employees’ ideas for granted. I truly want to hear what they have to say.
I feel that Martin Zwilling, a leading startup advisor, puts it best: “Listen as though the other person is about to reveal a great secret or the winning lottery number and you will hear it only once.”
I view listening as another golden opportunity to learn and grow. If you’re just using it as a pause in conversation, you’re only cheating yourself.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.