I’ve always felt that the ability to listen (and the related ability to ask smart questions) is highly underrated in business, while presentation and speaking skills tend to be overrated.
We practice the art of SPIN Selling at Return Path, which is a sales methodology based on asking questions and listening rather than constantly pounding features and benefits. And boy, does it work. When done well, sales close much more quickly and prospects/clients are much more engaged because they really understand the need that they have for our services.
The same principles apply to management and leadership as well. While you certainly have to be somewhat authoritative and clear thinking as a leader, it’s almost always better to ask questions, listen to conversations, and shape them around the edges rather than dive in with the answer at the onset of a debate.
I remember when I was a little kid, my cousin David asked my Grandpa Bill why, at some extended family gathering, he spent the whole time listening to some friend or distant relative yammer away rather than talk more himself. Grandpa’s response: “I already know what I have to say — what I didn’t know was what he had to say.”
While Grandpa’s words ring true, I heard an even more memorable catch phrase today from my colleague George Bilbrey that summarizes this point: “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”