David Harding: How talking less and listening more is critical to your professional development

Some 70-80 percent of our waking hours involves some form of communication. Of that, just 40 percent is spent listening. And from my experience, that’s generous. I think that equation should be reversed.

It’s time to recommit to listening. Here’s a better way of approaching a conversation: 

  • Minimize both internal and external distractions. Turn off your cell phone and close your email.
  • Get up from your desk and move to a conference table. For a quicker exchange, just stand up.
  • Show support with your body language. Lean forward and face the speaker. Maintain eye contact.
  • Listen with the sole purpose of understanding and connecting. Keep an open mind.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions to deepen your understanding. Demonstrate that you understand with smiles and nods, follow up, and feedback.


How clear are you?

How often have you had to stop someone in the middle of an explanation to ask a question to make sure you were “getting” what was being shared? Chances are, a lot. People are not always aware when they are not communicating clearly.

That’s partly because when we know what we’re talking about, we assume those around us are on the same page. Not so. The most common source of miscommunication is people failing to realize how little they are actually communicating. In other words, we’re communicating a lot less than we think we are.

This is an easy fix. Never assume something should go without saying. Always spell it out to be sure. Lay instructions and intentions out precisely so there will be no misunderstandings. Ask to be sure you have been heard and understood and allow plenty of time for questions.


Jack of all trades

It has been said that intelligence is the combination of knowing a lot about a little while you also know a little about a lot. Basically, it’s impossible to be smart without also being aware of the wider world. The Internet has made us all well aware of how much there is to know. The challenge today is knowing a little about a lot. And it’s pretty tempting to spend a lot of time pursuing that goal.

Becoming an expert with deep understanding in your domain remains just as important and just as difficult to achieve as it used to be. Deep understanding of a system, domain, territory or culture helps you create analyses and then apply them to new systems you encounter.

Know your chosen domain deeply. And be open to knowing a little about a lot more. It’s the random interactions and surprising coincidences of these “littles” together with your “lot” that will help you successfully and interestingly navigate your daily life.


David Harding

president and CEO

HardingPoorman Group

HardingPoorman, a graphics communications firm, has been voted one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

[email protected]