Peter Drucker On The Most Important Thing In Communication

Peter Drucker is known as the Father of Management, influencing modern management practices more than anyone else through his extensive writing and teaching. I’m intrigued by what he said about communication: “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Here are two ways to practice hearing what isn’t said. 


In Managing the Non-Profit Organization, Drucker outlined basic leadership competencies: “As the first such basic competence, I would put the willingness, ability, and self-discipline to listen. Listening is not a skill; it’s a discipline. Anybody can do it. All you have to do is keep your mouth shut.”

From the lack of listening that many of us demonstrate, we need more discipline!

To hear what isn’t said, you need to listen in new ways. Here are a couple things that might help:

  1. Determine not to talk. My friend Steve Ogne liked to say, “If you’re talking, you’re not listening.”
  2. Listen to learn, not to respond. When listening to formulate a response, you’re thinking about yourself and not paying attention to what the speaker is saying, and not saying.
  3. Listen longer. To notice what’s missing, you have to listen long enough to hear the gaps.

Ask Questions

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions,” Drucker once remarked. You can see his techniques right in this quote. It begins with the mindset of ignorance, pretending you don’t know, so that you will ask questions.

  1. “Be ignorant…” If you think you know, you won’t ask. And if you don’t ask, you won’t find out what you don’t know. So, even though you may feel you know, pretend you don’t.
  2. Explore. The curious leader listens not just to confirm what they believe to be true, but to explore what else is true.
  3. Ask probing questions. “The important and difficult job is never to find the right answer; it is to find the right question.” The question you ask will partially determine the answer given. Ask different questions to get different answers.

Increase your communication by disciplining yourself to listen and ask the right questions. When you are able to hear what isn’t said, you will have the ability to get below the surface to what no one else sees. This ability will enhance your relationships, problem-solving, and innovation.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    One thought on “Peter Drucker On The Most Important Thing In Communication

    1. Active Listening is a tough discipline, but one that can be learned. I like your quotation from Peter Drucker, “all you have to do is keep your mouth shut”, as we then start to listen for hidden meaning and to “see the gaps” in the clients reasoning and processing.