The Advisor’s Corner – When Should I Remain Quiet?

Remaining quietQuestion:

As a leader, are there times when I should hold back my opinions?

StrategyDriven Response: (by Roxi Hewertson, StrategyDriven Principal Contributor)

It is a balancing act for leaders to know just how much to talk and how much to listen. Extroverted leaders have a particular challenge because they talk to think as an important part of processing information and ideas. They risk grabbing too much airtime and shutting others down. Conversely, Introverted leaders think to talk and can be challenged to communicate enough information at the right to meet their followers’ needs. Leaders make fewer wrong decisions when they ask more than they tell. Our focus today is on the more verbal leader. You should consider staying quiet when…

  1. It’s emotional – people need to believe they are being heard. Ask how you can help rather than assume you know.
  2. You come in during the middle of a story – no need to embarrass yourself!
  3. You are wondering if what you’ll say is offensive – if you have to wonder, and then it probably is.
  4. You are tempted to ‘fix’ the person’s problem and about to give advice no one asked you to give.
  5. Someone asks you a question that you should not or cannot answer fully or accurately.
  6. You think your idea is the best thing since shelled walnuts.
  7. When you ask a question, it is a good idea to wait and listen for the answer.
  8. You feel yourself jumping to conclusions without much information – not a good way to get your exercise!
  9. You’ve been drinking, partying, etc. and someone from work calls you – it’s far better to stay off the phone.
  10. You are angry or upset. First, take time to figure out why you feel the way you do, and then determine the best course of action to resolve the problem.

Consider a leader I worked with who was unable to say he did not know. He would give anyone an answer on any question asked of him. Yet, it would have been so easy, and correct, to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” He isn’t stupid, just misguided about what is expected of a good leader, including telling the truth. Of course, his credibility was negatively impacted.

I know another leader who routinely asks questions and listens intently to the answers. People tell her the truth because she honors them by deeply listening and with her thoughtful responses. She observes a great deal, is rarely fooled, and does not claim to have all the answers. Her credibility and reputation were beyond reproach.

It is true that quiet and contained leaders need to speak up when they have something meaningful to say. People need to understand and hear about their opinions, vision, values, decisions, and expectations. Staying quiet when you need to be heard can be just as problematic as talking too much.

Leaders need to engage others, share their ideas, and make decisions. It’s the balance of listening and talking that makes all the difference. It’s not an accident that the ratio of ‘listening’ body parts to ‘speaking’ body parts is 4:1 (ears and eyes: mouth).

For a quick indicator, try this: next time you are in a meeting, make a tic mark every time you open your mouth to say something. Keep track of whether you are telling or asking. Keep score for a day or two and you’ll have a good indication of whether you are talking too much, sharing too little, or have a healthy balance.


About the Author

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through AskRoxi.com, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.


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