Think Before You Speak
(5 Steps to Curing the Open Mouth Syndrome – or aka, becoming a Better Listener)
I was born with a “limited filter.” Meaning, when it comes to speaking my mind, I suffered from what I call the “Open Mouth Syndrome.” Just ask my wife Tracy who has joked about the number of times she has wanted to body slam my unfiltered words as they exited my mouth and steamed-rolled into the ears of bystanders.
Over the years I have diligently worked on closing my “Open Mouth Syndrome”, and slowly I have been able to apply a stop process that has helped me both professionally and personally. For instance, in my personal life I no longer meet Tracy’s difference of opinion with an aggressive retort, but rather try to engage in empathetic dialog. In my professional life, I have learned to allow my brain to process information prior to generously donating loud articulations. The outcome has been nothing short of magical in that my relationships both personally and professionally are much more prosperous.
In this article I plan on sharing the emotional medicine I used to treat my Open Mouth Syndrome, but before I do, let’s see if you too suffer from the condition that can negatively affect both your career and personal life?
Here are a few questions to ponder…
The Open Mouth Syndrome Test
[ ] Had listings get cancelled by a Seller because they felt that they were not being heard.
[ ] Fumbled offers because both agents thought they were listening when they really failed to hear what was being said.
[ ] Lost partnerships because someone failed to hear the needs of the other and added fuel to the fire by saying things they later regretted.
[ ] Lost new promising agents because your mentorship skills were more focused on the mistakes of a new agent (most likely caused by their lack of knowledge), rather than listening to their newbie questions and taking the time to be a mentor.
[ ] Believe that because you are an expert in your territory this makes you the oracle of all things real estate related.
[ ] Had personal relationships suffer a slow death because you were too busy thinking of a comeback or point of view, rather than listening to the needs of the most important people in your life? (This is one that I was personally guilty of in my relationship with Tracy for years.)
Listen and Silent are created from the same letters.
If you find that you suffer from the Open Mouth Syndrome, I have an easy remedy for you. It comes from the advice of our founding President, George Washington who wisely said, “Think before you speak.”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, President Washington was speaking on something that today we call Active Listening, which is the art of hearing the other person first, before responding in conversation.
If you are curious what Active Listening looks like, examples include learning to hear “why” a client is selling or buying their house before you pitch them your brand. Or, it’s learning to hear the point of view of an agent who is presenting a less-than offer, rather than dismiss them instantly. Or, it’s learning to have good bedside manners to our “back seat driver” clients who are practicing real estate without a license by trying to tell us how to do our job. Or, as the late Attorney Donn Kemble, my father and mentor would say to me as we would smoke our cigars and drink our cognac together, “Son, if a person wants to say the moon is made out of cheese, don’t waste your breath arguing your point. Just ask them, ‘And what kind of cheese would that be?’” He never had the need to show how smart he was or belittle a person by pointing out how absurd they were. He instead taught me these five simple steps to becoming a better listener.
The Five Steps to Becoming a Better Listener
1. Listen with Silence: The first step in becoming a better listener is to learn the art of silence. As I mentioned earlier, Listen and Silent are anagrams, meaning they are words made up of the same letters. Therefore when someone speaks, close your mouth, open your ears and simply listen to what they have to say.
2. Be Present: The second step in the art of listening is making the effort to be present. In this day and age of over stimulation, smart phone distraction and pre-occupation keeps us from being present to the person in front of us. The rule of thumb to being present is to remember that our presence is a present to those we encounter.
3. Expand Your Viewfinder: The third step in the art of being a better listener is to remember that difference is what makes the world go around. In other words, be open-minded to various points of view; especially the ones that don’t align with yours. It is easy for all of us to focus on our own needs and dismiss the input of others. But when we do this we run the risk of missing the essence of what is behind the communication of the other party. It might not be your cup of tea, but then again, you might just learn an unexpected lesson along the journey.
4. Take a Breath and Don’t be Immediate: One of the biggest mistakes we make in poor listening is to respond too quickly.
However, not every issue requires an immediate answer. In fact most issues are to be analyzed before you respond verbally or in writing. My father who was also an attorney said it best when he would advise me, “Spyro, assume that anything you say in writing, a Judge will read back to you one day in court.” Meaning, never respond in haste and say things that you might regret one day. Or in other words, learn to argue both sides of the issue in your head before you respond out of your mouth.
5. Take “Ego” out of Communication: In communicating there is something called emotional arm wrestling, where “winning” is more important than resolving. The final step to becoming a better listener is to wisely choose your battles. Meaning to determine if you want to be right? Or if you want to make the deal work? Sometimes it is better to let the other agent connect the dots of the deal and allow them to come to the conclusion at hand, leading you both to a win-win deal for the client.
It has been said by world leaders and relationship experts that the greatest human handicap is a breakdown in communication. My belief is that this fracture can be repaired by learning the art of listening and the simple century old gift of learning to think before we speak. It is the cure to the Open Mouth Syndrome that will not only open the door to better clients and better deals, but most important to me, to becoming a better spouse.