Please… Just Shut Up!

Contribution Growth mindset Respect


Key Point: It takes quiet confidence to know when not to say anything. This is a personal struggle for me. I have lots of opportunity for on-going personal development and one area requiring priority attention is learning to become more discriminate when, where and how much I talk. Frankly, I think I’m a reasonably effective listener and communicator. I’m not someone who typically talks over people, dominates conversations, or is sloppy in choice of words. I also usually ask quite good listening questions. But the more senior one gets, the more they have to be highly efficient when taking up airtime. And I have to give this serious attention now. Why? 

The people in my current environment are, for the most part, highly accomplished and smart people. They listen and are quick on the uptake. The most precious commodity they have is time and how well it’s used. And as people get more advanced in their application of that resource, more self aware of the energy they have and want to expend, they put extra value on efficient conversation; especially in business settings. The old adage that “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” is sage advice.

Board members are particularly sensitive to this matter. Their wrinkles and grey hair are usually earned through thousands of meetings and group activities. And contrary to the belief of many, it is NOT disagreement and a well-served debate that typically annoys them. In fact, they often relish the contribution of constructive conflict if it results in better decision making. They actually MOST detest repetition of agreement and/or people who fill a vacuum of space, adding no value. Sometimes these two mistakes go together and for confident, successful people, this can feel like fingers scratching on a blackboard. I may be guilty of that “blackboard scratch sometimes, and I am in a role where even one time is too many. I have to apply the following character moves and I will!

Character Moves:

  1. Evaluate where you are on the “value talk” scale. Do you know? If you have some work to do on this, try some FeedForward practice Marshall Goldsmith coaches top execs how to use. Here is how it works: A. Find three to five people who are key stakeholders in your sphere and tell them, “I want to add more value and be more efficient when I talk.” Ask if they would be fellow travelers in your journey to get better. B. During a brief (10 to 15 min one-on-one conversation) ask for two suggestions from these chosen “coaches” that might help you improve on this in the future. No feedback on the past is allowed; only what might work in the future. We’re focusing forward, not looking backward. C. Listen attentively to the suggestions. Do not critique or make ANY comment on the feedback. Just thank the participants for their ideas and recommended action. (The person giving you the recommendations should simply say, “you’re welcome,” after your discussion. Nothing more needs to be added by them or you).
  2. Take the suggestions given, develop your own action plan and seriously practice working on the area you want to improve on.
  3. Over the next 12 months briefly check in with your selected coaches and ask them for continued forward-looking suggestions. If you are improving they will typically let you know.
  4. Remember that it is successful people who have the self-honesty, courage and tenacity to want to relentlessly improve. At the same time we are not in the business of being perfect.
  5. Ask yourself every day. “Did I do my best today to _____?”

Do the above and you and I will improve. The process works because it is about you and me. And as Marshall Goldsmith humbly admits, coaches are only as good as their students.

The confidence to be quiet in The Triangle,

Lorne Rubis