Quiet Listening: Encouraging Others to Speak

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is quiet listening and how is it different from loud listening? How does listening effectively help you to become a better manager?

Quiet listening is using your silence to create a space in the conversation for others. Loud listening is saying things that encourage people to speak up or push back.

Keep reading for more about loud and quiet listening styles and how to use them.

Loud and Quiet Listening Styles

Your job as a leader is to listen to every person on your team, with the goal of amplifying their voice. You’ll usually resort to one of two types of listening: quiet listening and loud listening. It’s likely that you’ve already adopted one of these listening styles over your lifetime. You don’t need to change your listening style when you become a boss, but you do need to learn how to use your particular listening style effectively, and be in tune with how others receive it. 

Quiet Listening

Quiet listening means inserting silence in your conversations in order to create space for the other person to speak. The advantage of this type of listening is that people are more likely to say what they’re really thinking—rather than what they think you want to hear—when they’re expected to fill silence and don’t have to deal with a highly reactive conversation partner. 

Executed improperly, however, quiet listening comes with a number of disadvantages. People may waste their time trying to guess what you want, or present their own ideas as yours in meetings or conversations. They can get away with this easily if you’re not very vocal about your own ideas, in favor of keeping the floor open for others. Creating silence in conversations can also make people very uncomfortable and stress them out, or can make them feel that you’re trying to use discomfort to trick them into speaking, which undermines the productivity of the conversation. 

To be an effective quiet listener, focus on building conversations that make everyone feel comfortable. The first way to do this is to model the behavior you want to see—if you want people to put forth their unpopular opinions, you need to put your unpopular opinion on the table first. You could say something like, “I think that our system to respond to customer support inquiries is outdated and slowing us down. What do you think?” If you want people to challenge you, you have to open the floor to them and make the invitation to challenge clear. For example, you might say, “Please come to our meeting with some ideas on how my system for handling customer support inquiries could be improved.”

Create space for meaningful discussion, but don’t spend too much time on silence—it shouldn’t take up your whole conversation. Too much silence seems like you’re not engaging with what’s being said.

Loud Listening

Loud listening depends on saying things that will make the people you are speaking to react or push back—this usually happens when you put forth a firm opinion and ask for a response to it. The advantage of this method is that no one wastes time trying to figure out what you’re thinking—it’s quite clear. It also quickly gets to the root of opposing points of view and holes in logic. 

However, it’s important to understand that many people you talk to won’t have the type of confidence they need to challenge you, especially if you are their boss. Improperly executed loud listening scares people into agreeing with you and backing down, which isn’t a productive outcome for anyone. You can encourage the confidence to challenge by stating your idea clearly, and then—as with effective quiet listening—explicitly asking that the other person challenges your idea. This might look like, “I want to revamp our customer support templates, but the way I want to go about it might be unnecessarily time-consuming and overall, not a great idea. I want you to tell me where my logic isn’t making sense, so we can discuss.”

Which Listening Style Is Best?

Neither listening style is better or more managerial. Keep the listening style you’ve developed over the years, but refine it so that it best serves your purposes and your team. Caring personally and truly knowing your team members is helpful here—you can see how your listening style is perceived by the people around you, and can make necessary adjustments to make sure everyone is comfortable enough to challenge one another.

Organizational Listening Culture: Loud and Quiet Listening

Your team members should also be taught how to effectively listen to each other. This has several advantages. First, it takes the burden off you to be the “designated listener.” When there are more effective listeners on your team, more ideas and suggestions can be heard. Second, team members see the small points for improvement that high-level managers often overlook, and are more receptive to suggestions for improvement when they’re not prioritizing around high-level matters. When small ideas—the type of ideas that spur innovation and creation—are given the space and time they deserve, other team members are inspired to come forward with their own ideas/suggestions, furthering the innovative cycle.

Start by demonstrating good listening in a highly visible, basic way—in meetings, work on modeling behaviors that give everyone a voice. These behaviors might include:

  • Going around the room to make sure everyone gets to say something if they’d like
  • Cutting off people who are speaking too much
  • Ahead of time, meeting with those you want to talk more or less to outline expectations
Quiet Listening: Encouraging Others to Speak

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  • How you have to be direct with people while also caring sincerely for them
  • Why relationships are an essential part of successful leadership
  • How to create a strong team culture that delivers better results

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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