I believe we should speak less and think more.
Speaking less and thinking more demands vulnerability, which is perhaps why many of us fail in this regard. Instead of dialogue, we engage in duelling monologues. We eagerly wait for a break in the conversation so that we can insert our own brilliance—solicited or unsolicited. We often think we know best, even when we don’t. This results in speaking far too much and thinking far too little.
Several years ago, I was a young and inexperienced junior officer training for my first deployment. During a particularly demanding day on a key training exercise, I made a series of tactically and technically poor decisions. My highly experienced and very patient troop warrant officer—my number two—observed my performance and, unbeknownst to me, took some detailed notes. At the end of the day, he asked to speak with me in private. He then spent 30 minutes debriefing me on my performance, highlighting the myriad of areas where I should have known better. It was indeed a dialogue: his role in the dialogue was to speak and mine was to listen. At the end, he left me with very little to say and very much to think about—a state of being I would come to appreciate more later in life. At the time I felt humbled and embarrassed. Looking back, I’m grateful that he felt I was worth the investment of his time and counsel. It was a transformational experience for me.
Conversations don’t always need to be competitions. Yes, sometimes our objective is to exert influence through speech. But other times, we need to open ourselves up to be influenced by others. To think otherwise would be hubris. To that end, we need to be willing to actively listen to what others have to say, consider their points-of-view, re-evaluate our own positions, and then possibly offer meaningful addenda to the conversation.
Speaking less and thinking more is a precursor to growth. When we are the ones speaking, we are not learning anything we don’t already know. If we fail to think and reflect on what we hear, then the words have little meaning. Practically speaking, this means:
- Speak less. We need to embrace diversity of thought. This comes from dialogue with those whose opinions differ from ours. It means leaving the echo chambers and conversing with people who will challenge the way we think. It means opening our mind and letting it get filled with something new, which is most easily achieved when we let go of the need to craft a retort. Not all dialogue needs to be a debate. Conversations don’t need to be competitions.
- Think more. We must reflect on our previously held beliefs, evaluate those beliefs against new knowledge, and ultimately decide if these beliefs can still be authentically embraced. This means reflection, introspection, and a willingness to change. As my colleague Mark would say, embrace the idea of strong beliefs, loosely held.
Experience has shown me that impulsiveness comes naturally to many people, particularly those aspiring to be people of influence. Such people think influence is gained by speaking first, speaking loudly, and speaking defensively when challenged. Such impulsive behaviour may feel like a conversational win, but is really a missed opportunity for growth. A chance to learn something from someone else is wasted. When we think more and speak less, our words are carefully considered, informed, and powerful.
Be vulnerable. That is, be willing to listen, to be challenged, to change your mind. Don’t assume every conversation is a debate, with a clear winner and loser. Don’t assume that a retort is always necessary. In that moment when I was getting admonished by my troop warrant officer, I certainly felt vulnerable–even embarrassed. But instead of trying to defend myself, which is what I really wanted to, I stayed quiet and listened to what he had to say. It was the first good decision I had made that day. Amidst the castigation, he made me realize that I had the potential to do better as a leader. I consider that to be the real “win”.
Are you ready to speak less and think more? The Gasparotto Group has programs that can help you achieve the most out of every dialogue.
About the Author
Anthony Robb has 20 years of experience in the Canadian Army. He is a nationally decorated officer, having served on two operational deployments to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He has a Bachelor in Electrical Engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Norwich University. He is a leadership development professional and valued member of the Gasparotto Group team. He is active in the planning and execution of leadership programs. He also has a passion for coaching people who are eager to reach beyond their perceived potential.
The Gasparotto Group partners with organizations to help them create and nurture cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams.