Can you last longer than 17 seconds? Bite your tongue!

“Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” — Cuban Proverb

“Big egos have little ears.” — Robert Schuller

So you say you want to listen longer without interrupting and better tune into what your colleagues are saying? Well, bite your tongue…for 17 seconds.

Unpacking mental models [Oh, I can just see John Bausch rolling his eyes at that terminology] – or taking the new information that you just heard and fitting it into the existing stuff in your head – can take 17 seconds or longer.

I further practiced being quiet for 17 second intervals this month. If I wanted to say something, I stopped and continued listening. [One of the effective change leaders I work with, Mike McGlinn, calls this RTUTS – Resist The Urge To Speak.]

The result? I can give you quality measures, not quantity measures, of employing this tactic:

  • A higher performing team
  • Deeper employee engagement
  • Demonstrated leadership commitment
  • More harmony amongst the change leaders*
  • People across all stakeholder groups feeling ‘heard’*

Not bad results to report for an organizational change. And, because of these results, our more quantitative program metrics increased significantly as well.

*I realize that the last two bullet points may be perceived by some as a bit sappy, but it usually takes sap vs. smarts to glue a team, a group, a department, an organization together.

ACTION: Shush for 17 seconds and listen! And have a nice day.

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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Sandra Schwan

1 Comment

  1. Great point Sandy – two ears and one mouth for a reason…
    Once we get the RTUTS down, I think the next step idea we can take is to become a good interviewer. Asking relevant questions to demonstrate your genuine interest and to engage the other person at a higher level is a great way to fit the information in with the “existing stuff in your head.” People like Larry King have made this into an art form.
    Most people really are very interesting and sometimes it just takes the right question. The late Bill Buckley said there is something interesting about 99 out of 100 people and for that one, that fact itself is the interesting thing.

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