On average we spend 40% of our communication talking about ourselves. Research shows there are powerful forces compelling all this talk of me, myself and I. Leaders can learn to stop talking about themselves, and instead build trust and increase their influence by listening to others.
After my first trip to Maui, I started to share about it with a friend. Before I could say much of anything, my friend launched into stories of her honeymoon in Maui. Ten minutes later, I had heard details of her Maui experience and she heard none of mine. She left with a big smile saying, “Glad you had a good vacation. I’d really like to get back to Maui again.”
Research Shows Why We Love To Talk About Ourselves
Two Harvard neuroscientists did a series of studies to understand how talking about ourselves affects our brains. Using brain image scanners they monitored the blood flow between neurons to see what happened.
The results showed increased activity in the meso-limbic dopamine system. This is the area of the brain that responds to pleasures like food and sex, and rewards like money. The significance of these findings is in how powerfully rewarding and even addictive it is to talk about ourselves.
Smart leaders have learned how to harness this power to help others.
The Power Of Listening
Dale Carnegie published How To Win Friends And Influence People in 1937. Today it is ranked #27 of all books selling on Amazon.com. Carnegie taught that if you ask people questions and listen, they will feel important and appreciated. You will learn more about their values and viewpoint. As a result, they will like you and be more favorable to your ideas.
Listening will change your relationships. Just think of what would happen in your marriage, with your kids, with your friends and colleagues if you communicated that they were important and appreciated. Express your care and respect by listening instead of talking about yourself.
Supervisors will get higher engagement from employees if they demonstrate genuine interest by regularly listening to their experience and ideas. When a hard change becomes necessary, employees will be more understanding and willing to work through the inconvenience of the change, because of the respect and trust they’ve been shown.
Great salespeople listen to a customer before launching into the features of their product. By listening, they discover what the customer needs, values, and is concerned about. The customer feels valued, and ready to listen to the salesperson who can adapt her presentation to match the customer’s needs.
How To Stop Talking About Yourself And Listen Instead
Since talking about ourselves is close to addictive, it may take some effort to stop. Here are a few ways to stop talking about yourself and listen instead.
- Be aware of whose story is being told. Listen for the story in a conversation. Whose story is it? If it’s theirs, don’t hijack it by sharing your own.
- Look for what you can learn, not what you can say. I love to tell funny stories. It’s easy for me to jump into a conversation as the entertainer. That’s appropriate at times, but I also want to learn about the other person, what they value, what they have experienced.
- Ask probing questions. One of the most helpful ways to listen is to ask questions. “What happened next?” or “Fascinating, how did you figure that out?” If you’re asking questions, you’re not talking about yourself.
- When you do talk about yourself, keep it brief. Since we know the other person wants to talk, keep your sharing brief. Use a question to invite the other person to share. “I’m sure you’ve had a lot of experience with this, what do you think?” or “What about you?”
- If you say the words I, Me, and My, you’re talking about yourself. “My company also does…” shifts the focus of the conversation toward you. Instead, use You and Your to keep them the focus on the other person. “What do you think?” or “How was your weekend?” or “Where did you vacation?”
It may take discipline on your part to keep the conversation focused on the other person. When you do, you’re giving a gift to another person and making them feel valued and respected. And they’ll love you for it.
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