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September 1, 2015

What's More Important: Speaking or Listening?

Caroline Smith

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I've mentioned in a previous blog about an inspirational poster that I have in my bedroom. It's called the Seven Steps to Happiness, and one of the steps is "Talk Less, Listen More."

I'd like to think of myself as a good listener and, in many situations, I prefer to listen rather than talk. But I've never really stopped to think why listening is so important.

I suppose one advantage is that it gives you time to process what you're hearing, and formulate considered responses. It also stops you jumping to conclusions.

In a previous job, I had to confront a colleague about something I'd been told about her. But rather than going in, all guns blazing, I simply asked her for her side of the story and listened. It turned out the situation was much more complicated than I'd been led to believe. I was therefore so relieved I'd taken the time to hear her side of the story first. If I had accused her outright, I would have made the situation 10 times worse.

Another benefit is you get to learn more about other people. Whenever I meet anyone, I always make a point of asking lots of questions and listening to what he or she has to say. I'm quite nosy and love finding out what makes people tick. As most people love talking about themselves, it's a win-win situation!

But, of course, speaking is important too – if you can't communicate what you're trying to say effectively, or ask the right questions, the likelihood is you won't get very far in your career. But I think if we all spent a bit more time listening and less time talking, we'd learn more about one another, and there'd be a lot fewer misunderstandings.

We recently asked which skill you think is most important at work: speaking or listening – and we received some fantastic comments on social media, so thanks to everyone who contributed!

Most of you, like @Jorge5008 on Twitter, are in favor of listening over speaking. Like my happiness poster, @VijayJetty said we should all "speak less and listen more." Retu Hazari on Facebook rightly commented that "listening improves knowledge," and Cosme Fu Lanito posted: "Listening is more important for those who have nothing worth saying."

Several people pointed out that we have "two ears and one mouth" and that this is a good reason why we should spend more time listening (@Blessings2050, @PrivateBNJ, @ThinkPipeNat). Jason Fisher added: "I like to use this ratio [2:1] when listening and speaking." And Vaibhav Gupta posted: "Listening is more effective compared with speaking because in the corporate world, everyone is given a chance to share his or her thoughts. This can only be valuable if people are given an empathetic ear!"

A number of you said what's important is the order you do them, with many – like Yean-nee Shortland – favoring the "listen first, talk second" approach. Jerry Richardson also observed that "if you don't listen, you will not know what to say," which is true. Although Punyashree Venkatram agreed that speaking should come after listening, the poster also said: "Our opinion matters. Listening after speaking is also important. Other people's opinions also matter."

But while we had a lot of support for listening, David Billa spoke out for speaking, and others stressed the importance of practicing both. ‏@DandersK said: "Both are equal. To fully understand, you have to listen properly to a clear orator." And ‏@ThiruHR made the excellent point that "in listening we learn, and in speaking we transform."

Thanks for all your comments - we really appreciate your feedback. And if anyone else would like to share their thoughts, please do so below!

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24 comments on “What's More Important: Speaking or Listening?”

    1. Hi Entessar,
      I'm curious about your comment and wonder whether you could elaborate more. Could you explain what you mean?


    2. Hello Entessar,

      I believe that your comment is inferring that speaking should be concise and not contain superlatives. Is that what you are suggesting? If so, then that also infers that the speaker has as much responsibility toward effective listening as the listener does, which is an interesting perspective.


    3. Hi Midgie
      What I mean if speaking doesn't add any benefit to the discussion then the listening will be more effective.

  1. Hello Entessar
    Speaking and Listening both are importan to complete effective communication. Listening is important at the time of communications. As well as speaking also very much important at the time of adressing peoples,group of meeting.if there is no effective speech peoples are often to reject .Thats mean speaking is more important.
    Have a great day

    1. Thanks Tebogo for sharing your thoughts. I agree that we can not listen while we are talking. It is almost like it is a one-way process; we either listen or we are talking.

  2. can anyone explains me that.
    Only listener is always responsible for effective listening or speaker plays the same role ? kindly rply

    1. Hi Saltanat,
      I see both are responsible to listen effectively when the other person speaks. To fully understand what the other person is saying, we need to be fully engaged with listening to what they are saying rather than our heads full of thoughts about what we will say next.

  3. This is so well done! Thank you for sharing this. Not only are your points relevant to presentations, but they are also relevant to to all kinds of communication. I am inspired to apply what I have learned here.

    1. Thanks Claire for that feedback. Clear, effective, communication is so essential in all kinds of situations ... we just need to remember to use the skills!

  4. I would like to myself as a good listeners and in many situations ,i prefer to listen the people openion....

    1. Listening is how we learn about other people, what they think and how they feel. It's a great skill to have - keep up your good work!

    1. Thanks Christiana for sharing your perspective. I agree, we can learn more when we truly listen to others.

  5. Apart from two Ears and one mouth that showed what to focus on, the Tongue is behind the Teeth while Ears are open.

    1. Thanks Shahzad for sharing that thought. Indeed we can only truly focus on one thing at a time so while we are listening to someone, we should not be doing anything else!

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