Have you learned the art of silence?

Just yesterday I was having coffee with a friend as we reminisced about some of the places we’ve been and people we’ve known in common through several workplaces. When your gray hairs outnumber your brown hairs you get to reminisce.

Anyway, it struck me later driving home that the least able people, or most inept, however you want to put that, we’re the ones that just couldn’t be quiet. You know, those folks who just couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to weigh in with their own two cents just to find they were a few pennies short. (Think about it.)

It’s one thing of course to spout off nonsense in front of others in non-work environs for varied reasons. If you are attempting to impress a date, or perhaps later in the romantic arc, an in-law, you may find yourself saying something that sounds questionable even as it leave the confines of your lips. New neighbors? You too may utter something brainless. And of course, who hasn’t, while lubricating the innards down at the old watering hole, put forth a theory that couldn’t hold water but yet was all wet at the same time. It happens.

For most of us, the occasional faux pas doesn’t result in much damage. Life is bigger than the odd misstatement. There is an exception of course, and that is the role many of you find yourselves in today: the role of leader at work.

You see on the job most of us want to believe in our leaders, most of us want to look to our boss for some sense of clarity or priority about the day’s events, and while you too can participate in fun conversation there is a line to be aware of, a point you don’t want to pass and a position you always need to be mindful of: people listen to you. Some times it’s better to be quiet.

One of my earliest bosses was perhaps one of the smartest I ever worked with. He was an engineer from Kentucky, which I remember because I don’t think I ever met anyone from Kentucky before. And while I remember his intellect I also remember he was willing to not say much. He was willing to take the time to think, and to listen to others.

Many of us – the writer included – still struggle with ego and in making sure others hear us, and [thus] know how smart we are, how much we contribute to the conversation. But there’s a time and place to take things in without responding. The old saw is that effective leaders speak less than 50% of the time during a conversation. My gut tells me it’s probably more like a third. And let’s be clear, we’re not talking about being quiet to avoid embarrassing ourselves, but to make sure what we say matters and adds value.

It’s a wise person who keeps their mouth closed and their mind open.

Credibility is all about people wanting your perspective and point of view precisely because it does matter. It has meaning and gravitas because the filters that should be applied to critical thinking have already been applied by you, the speaker. In an age where reality tv passes for real life the ability to think critically before speaking enhances credibility thus leadership. The opportunity to say silly things, or, worse, shocking, only dimishishes stature, intellect and leadership.

Want to be a better boss today?

Be quiet.


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