Do You Talk Too Much? Are You Sure?

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

Pat Wiesner is the retired CEO of Weisner, publisher of ColoradoBiz magazine.  I always turn to his On Management column first thing when I receive a new issue.  Pat’s column in the October 2007 issue is entitled Do You Talk Too Much

In this column, Pat told the story of a former employee who “could never say in five words what could be stretched to 50.”  According to Pat, this particular fellow “never seemed to make the cut when we were looking for someone to promote.”

In other words, Harry, the pseudonym he is assigned in the article, had poor communication skills.  In fact, it sounds as if he actually had negative personal impact because of his communication skills.  That’s too bad, because it sounds as if he were a nice, reasonably competent guy.

However, nice, reasonably competent guys don’t succeed without good communication skills.  Talking too much – and not listening enough – is not the way to become known as someone with good communication skills.  Simply put, whether they are in a conversation, or making a presentation, people with good communication skills know when to shut up.

They make their points clearly and concisely and provide room for other people to speak.  When other people speak, they listen carefully.  Because they listen well and carefully, they respond to other people in an appropriate manner.

I love the Tony Hillerman mysteries, set on the Navaho reservation in New Mexico and Arizona.  I was reading a Hillerman book called Coyote Waits, and came across this passage.

“Jacobs was silent for a while, thinking about it, her face full of sympathy.  She was a talented listener.  He had noticed it before.  She had all her antennae out, focused on the speaker.  The world was shut out.  Nothing mattered but the words she was hearing.

“Listening was ingrained in Navajo culture.  One didn’t interrupt.  One waited until the speaker was finished, gave him a moment or two to consider additions, footnotes or amendments, before he responded.  But even Navajos listened impatiently.  Not really listening, but framing their reply.  Jean Jacobs really listened.  It was flattery, and Chee knew it, but it had its effect.”

I have great respect for my books and usually don’t dog ear them to mark a page.  But, I dog eared this page.  I knew I would use it when I was writing a blog post on listening. 

What’s Tony Hillerman’s message here?  It’s simple, common sense really.  Don’t interrupt, let the other person finish, don’t start deciding what you’re going to say until after you’ve listened to, and thought about what the other person has said. Pretty good stuff to find in a middle of a mystery novel.

Burke is another fictional character created by Andrew Vachss.  He is a tough guy, but listening is also one of his strong suits.

“It’s not hard to get some people to talk; it’s listening that takes real skill.  You can’t just shift to recorder mode until you confirm the channel is open and the signal is strong.  Sometimes, they just need to tell you something important to them before they tell you anything important to you.  It’s like uncorking a bottle of wine and letting it breathe before you have a taste”

Burke’s message is pretty clear too.  Focus on the other person, let him or her take the lead.  If you’re patient, you’ll get the information you want and/or need.

You might find it odd that I’m dispensing listening advice based on what I’ve read in mystery novels.  However, one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits is Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Hillerman and Vachss are saying the same thing – in a more poetic style.

Listening is key to communication.  Focusing on the other person, really paying attention to what he or she is saying is key to listening.

That’s what Pat Wiesner is talking about in his column – even though he doesn’t call it positive personal impact.  Pat’s column finishes with these words.  “I have never met a businessman who had the reputation for talking too much who also had the reputation for being a fine manager…Great manager’s are listeners!  Most people tend to laugh it off (He’s OK.  He just talks to much.) But it can be a career killer.”

I agree. The common sense point here is simple.  If you want to succeed in your career and life, you have to become someone who has positive personal impact.  Learning to listen well is one of the most important communication skill and a good way to become a person with positive personal impact.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website to subscribe to my monthly ezine and for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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