Tip #3: Listen more than you talk

I’ll now continue the slow roll with #3 of my top twelve startup tips from this summer at Techstars.

You’ve probably heard the expression that it’s hard to listen while your lips are moving. While technically this is not universally true (it’s more the talking that matters – moving ones lips while listening is certainly distracting but perhaps less so than actually emitting noise), I still find it to be an excellent rule of thumb.

Assuming you’ve surrounded yourself with great and engaged mentors, you’re probably going to hear lots of advice. The thing that many younger entrepreneurs fail to grasp is that it’s extremely important to internalize the advice so that you can decide whether or not you’re going to reject it or accept it. In order to internalize it, you have to listen to it. A key indicator that you are not listening enough is that you are saying “yeah but” often. “Yeah but” is excellent and very, very necessary. But it comes at the end of listening. Another helpful clue that you should be listening is that someone else is speaking.

Next time you’re working with someone that you respect and taking their advice as data, try this. Listen. Wait until they stop talking. Think. Now speak.

I have always had this problem myself. I’m fairly introverted, but when it comes to being an entrepreneur in a room with a bunch of other entrepreneurs, I’m much more “type A.” I want to get in there. I want to say “yeah but” so often that it nearly kills me. But I consciously practice the art of intense listening.

Too many entrepreneurs that I see just love meetings. They love to debate, discuss, rebut, and repeat. This can be healthy, but ad nauseam it’s not helpful. When this behavior is coupled with crappy listening skills, it becomes downright wasteful and irritating.

This also applies to conversations with your customers. It’s very important to resist the urge to tell them why they are wrong and you are right. My friend Eric Marcoullier said something yesterday that I think generally holds true. I’m paraphrasing, but he said “You will never convince your customer that they are wrong about what they want.” If you are trying, you are speaking for no reason. And, you are not listening.

If you can’t listen, you can’t improve. If you don’t improve, you’re going to die. It’s important not to die. Listening is a prerequisite.

Spend your next day of meetings listening more than you talk. You will notice the difference. Just don’t get in a Mexican standoff with another reader of this blog. That would be weird, what with all that listening and so little talking.

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