The Courage to Shut Up

Frequently, one of the participants in a Latimer workshop will say something that totally grabs me. And I always will pause the workshop, write a note in my “ideas book” and then say, “That will be a blog post, and I can footnote you, if you want.” In this case, the participant politely declined a footnote.

We were having a discussion about listening, and how few people do it well. And the conversation started to roam around a bit, to related topics like leadership, consensus, and respect. Listening has all sorts of impacts on other people and organizations. When we don’t listen to each other, all sorts of bad things happen.

As we were discussing this, the point was made that listening takes courage. It takes courage to give up control. It takes courage to let other people speak their mind, because you can’t control what they will say. They might, God forbid, disagree with you! It takes courage to allow other perspectives into the conversation.

And one of the participants that day paraphrased the whole conversation with the following… “It takes courage to shut up.” Exactly the point.

In today’s world… ESPECIALLY in today’s world… letting other people have a chance to speak is a requirement, for effective leadership, communication, team building… all sorts of things. In a social media driven world, one way communication, while common online, is not a recipe for success. Communication has always been a two-way street. But the need for it is more important now than it has been in a long time.

My colleagues and I teach effective communication for a living. We are proud of what we teach, and how we teach it. And one of the best things any communicator can do is to realize when the appropriate move is to say absolutely nothing. If the conversation is going in a good place… if someone who does not normally speak up is speaking up… if you really want involvement and engagement and it is starting to happen… the best play might be to say absolutely nothing.

Have the courage to shut up once in a while. Or, to quote Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Try it some time.

Have a great day.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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4 responses to “The Courage to Shut Up”

  1. JP Whaley says:

    Great article. In regards to Churchill’s quote, I believe many millennials are criticized because they are good at the former (speaking up), but weak at the latter (listening). In addition, listening is not as simple as pausing and waiting for your speaking turn to come back around – it’s about processing what is being said and formulating a thoughtful response.

    • Dean Brenner says:

      Great comment, above and beyond the millennial characterization! Most people, in my experience, are simply pausing to wait their turn, not to absorb what is being said. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. John Burnham says:

    It may take courage. It also takes practice, and with practice it may take less courage. You begin to realize how it can positively shift the power balance, especially when you are the leader normally doing the talking. Others become empowered when you are willing to listen, and you may start to see how much more effective a leader you can be as a coach. Good job listening while you teach, Dean!

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.