There is an old saying “You aren’t learning when your mouth is open” sometimes coupled with “God gave you two ears and one mouth.”
It’s true that if you want to influence others, you can’t be a steady babbler. You must listen, observe, and listen more. This is an important path for leaders to learn how to work with others and lead organizations.
However, the idea that you never learn when you’re talking is simply wrong.
We learn by experience that self-talk and journaling are important disciplines to discovering what we think, and how to solve the problems we face. I have several friends who talk their way through challenging situations and problems. They seek out “sounding board” people for this very reason. The act of trying to articulate our thoughts into speech forces us to be clear.
The same is true for writing out our thoughts. It’s too messy in our heads to understand, so get it out! Journaling is a time-honored practice which lets us pour out the jumble onto the page, and then we can see the patterns, get the insights, make the connections, and know better what we believe. E.M. Forster, the brilliant writer, said “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?”
Leaders often give presentations and engage in critical conversations. Practicing these aloud is a primary means of sharpening and improving them. When we actually hear ourselves speaking we realize what sounds silly, unhelpful, or unclear, and work to edit. Often we recognize ways to use better words and phrases.
Some people say they have an inner voice. Ha! I have a whole committee of voices, with sub-committees, and half of them are whiners. We learn a great deal by engaging in self-talk, even silent self-talk. We learn how to sort out different perspectives and which voices are closest to our best self.
Leaders are listeners, but not only to other people. Don’t overlook the power of listening to yourself and learning.