I can’t think of anything more fundamental to the success of a startup than good communication. Good communication is so important whether between co-founders, between the company and its customers, between founders and mentors/investors/employees, between founders and family members or between the company and channel partners.
Much has been written about this and there are a lot of different factors that go into effective communication, one of which is good listening. The purpose of this post is to explore some stuff I’ve learned in the past year about how to be a better listener.
Learn how to spot crappy listening in yourself and others.
We’ve all been there. You’re “listening” to someone speak but while she is speaking, you’re really just thinking about what you’re going to say when she is done. When this happens, you usually end up interrupting the speaker to force your thoughts in edgewise. This is often followed up with a passive-aggressive “sorry for interrupting”. Sure you are!
I think this happens often among founders because we are so amped up about our ideas — and rightfully so. We think about them so much and we’re so passionate that we feel we understand other perspectives immediately and want to respond. I’ve gotten better about this partly because my co-founder Dave is so good about genuinely trying to understand what I’m saying as opposed to assuming he already does.
Here’s my advice: calm the fuck down and shut up. When you find yourself thinking about what you’re going to say next INSTEAD of what the other person is saying and where she is coming from, just stop. Take a breath and don’t say a word for a bit.
On the flip side, when you’re speaking and you can tell someone is thinking about what they’re going to say and simply waiting to say it instead of listening to you, remember that moment and and how douchey you seem to others when you do the same thing.
Recognize the need to be disciplined about it.
Even if you feel that 1) you totally understand what she is saying; 2) you totally disagree with what she is saying; 3) you have a totally awesome story that is totally relevant to what she is saying, you should totally just shut up and try to shelve those thoughts.
If you’re reading this and thinking “that’s easy,” you couldn’t be more wrong. It takes a great deal of discipline to put things you’re excited about on the backburner but it’s so important for healthy communication.
For myself, I’ve made it a rule to shut up for at least a few seconds after someone is done speaking. This has helped me avoid racing ahead to my responses.
Ask mo’ better questions.
While your first inclination might be to add some groundbreakingly insightful revelation, try asking a question instead. Try to probe and understand the origins of her thought process. Not only will it make the other person feel that you’re truly making an effort, it fosters healthy debate and new discoveries.
Don’t get me wrong, you should still add comments and insights, but just don’t be the dude that doesn’t ever mix it up. Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, maybe think about what question you can ask to better understand the speaker’s point of view.
Paraphrase early, paraphrase often.
Even if you feel you fully understand what someone has said, try putting it into your own words just to be safe and to make sure you’re not completely off-base. Maybe you’ll find that while you’re not completely off-base, you’re slightly off-base but in a critical way.
I guess it all boils down to knowing when to shut up. With that, thanks for reading!