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How Being a Better Listener Means More Effective Meetings

Silence is Actually a Sign of Intelligence

Have you ever sat in a meeting where you were trying to discuss how to improve your working systems or a certain component within it, but weren’t able to accomplish much because everyone was talking?

This has happened to me numerous times. Even though meetings are a regular part of the job, I’ve sat through so many where all anyone did was talk. Crisp suits stand in front of a conference room of people with a too-long PowerPoint reviewing the latest technology trends. Participants chime in too often to share their opinion to ensure their voice is heard or to bump themselves upon the promotion list.

No matter how long the meeting lasts, nothing is accomplished. The room is a whirlwind of voices all fighting to be heard. I’ve left too many of these meetings to count and have been frustrated at our lack of progress. Yet, I've realized something. In spite of the cacophony of voices, things still got done, and I noticed it was usually done by the quiet ones.

I’m talking about the people who often go unnoticed during meetings. They’re the people who may have a reputation as being the person who never speaks up or is known as the ‘quiet one’ on your team. These people aren’t speaking because they’re incompetent or withdrawn, it’s because they’re thinking. They’re taking in the room, gathering information, and learning--all without saying a single word.

I’ve always wondered what these silent creatures are thinking. I’ve found myself willing for them to chime in, but I know that their words are reserved for a lucky few.

Seeing these individuals in many if not all of the meetings I’ve attended has changed how I act in meetings. I reign in my words and listen. Though I’m still a long way from mastering this skill, I’ve already seen results.

Silence Doesn’t Mean a lack of Intellect

Many of us are uncomfortable with silence. So rather than sit in the silence, we fill it with mindless chatter.

Many of the problems in the business world can be attributed to this mindless chatter. Rather than listening to people’s thoughts or opinions, they’re steamrolled over by someone else in the room trying to show off their knowledge. Or maybe their job title has caused their ego to inflate a little bit. Regardless, just because they’re talking a lot, doesn’t mean they’re the smartest person in the room.

I’ve found that it’s actually the opposite. The smartest person in a meeting is usually the one that doesn’t say anything. They have no desire to interrupt a meeting and are content to sit and watch.

When the meeting concludes, they immediately head back to their desk, uninterested in wasting more time on talking, and start working. While everyone else was busy talking, they were learning. They’ve come up with a list of things to get done that will yield a solution. These incredible silent creatures aren’t interested in talking. Instead, they act."

Watching these people has changed my viewpoint on silence. I firmly believe that silence is indicative of intelligence and talking is not.

There are Advantages to Being Quiet

Of course, there are situations when these quiet people have to say something. And they have no issue doing so. However, they make their point with few words. I’ve found that when these people do speak up, I don’t have to worry about sitting through a dull PowerPoint or try to decipher a complicated spreadsheet.

There’s none of that when these quiet people finally float their words out. Instead, they make their point and retreat back into silence. They’ve said what they needed to say and go back to listening.

That’s the whole idea I’m trying to adopt: make your point then stop talking. There’s so much more you can learn by not talking and focusing on listening.

Active Listening

Rather than placing so much emphasis on improving your communication skills, focus on your listening skills. You’d be surprised how much more you can learn simply by listening.

For example, the first job I had after college was with a large, global software company. I was hired on as a content writer who would be working on creating web pages for each of the different software solutions and there were a lot of them. However, I’m not a technologically savvy person and the job intimidated me. But, being the eager college graduate I was (and all-too-happy with the salary), I accepted.

Focused on Learning

In my first few months here, I said very little. Part of it was due to being unsure of what we were talking about and not wanting to look stupid in front of my colleagues but was focused on learning. Listening to what project managers, customers, and stakeholders had to say allowed me to learn how our company-operated and gave me a basic overview of the solutions we were working with. Rarely did I speak up and while I was known for being quiet, I was also known as being someone who worked hard and took initiative.

Here's a note about another professional I heard of who used his listening skills to accelerate his career and secure a meeting with the founders of Google:

He also had a reputation as being very quiet during meetings and usually only attended to take notes. However, he said he learned so much just by sitting and listening to these meetings. So much so that he stayed ahead of the knowledge curve, quickly moved up in the company, and attended a meeting with the two individuals who created Google.

So much emphasis is placed on communication and not enough on listening. Mastering this skill can often teach you so much more than formal education. I imagine what this man learned from the founders of Google was greater than anything he learned in school. And he gained this knowledge just by listening.

Enjoy Your Silence

Now, in every meeting I attend, my goal is the same: stay quiet. I allow everyone else to do the talking while I remain quiet. I’m content to watch the room fill with multiple voices, all fighting to be heard. While they’re missing out on some incredible knowledge, I’m not.

But how do you stay quiet in meetings? It’s tricky, I’ll be the first to admit that. So often our own self-importance or job titles get in the way, filling our mouths with an endless supply of words that are actually hindering us from accomplishing anything. Deflate that ego, set aside your job title, and just listen. You’d be shocked at how much more you’ll get out of meetings when you’re not always the one talking.

Look for the quiet people in meetings. Watch them and try to emulate them because they’re the ones that are usually behind solutions and getting things done--all because they see and hear what others may have steamrolled over.

It’s entirely possible to become the quiet person in meetings. All it takes is recognizing the benefits of silence and embracing them.

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