We take the Word of God very seriously here, so it got our attention when we read James 1:19, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
All you have to do is spend about 15 seconds perusing your LinkedIn feed, and you will probably find at least one post that exalts the value of listening over talking. And it’s not hard to see where James (who was, after all, the half-brother of Jesus) was coming from: You can’t learn anything from talking. You can’t gain a better understanding of things by merely giving voice to what you already know. And you can’t act in empathy if you’re not hearing the thoughts and feelings of others.
Agreed on all points.
And yet, maybe because we’re in the business of expressing thoughts through words, we can’t help but ask this contrarian question: If listening is so good, and talking is so bad, then couldn’t you argue that whoever is talking ought to shut up? And couldn’t you also argue that those listening to the talker should stop listening because the person talking is doing a bad thing?
We’re using absurdist logic here to make a point but the point is not absurd. Talking can’t always be bad, or the devoted listener would have nothing worth listening to.
We are going through a study of Proverbs right now, and Solomon (who wrote most of the Proverbs) has much to say about fools who can’t stop yammering on. He also informs us that, by staying silent, even a fool can come across as wise. Yet Proverbs itself is 31 chapters of wisdom, insight and ideas. Solomon certainly didn’t mind telling us in detail what his thoughts were, and we’re better off because he did.
Yes, Solomon, we’re listening. Because you decided to talk!
The principle here seems to be this: Before talking, listen, learn, gather insight and gain wisdom. Then when you do speak, bring forth the product of your learning and understanding so it can benefit those who are now listening to you.
Business is tough, and everyone is at a disadvantage as a result of what we don’t yet know, or haven’t experienced, or have yet to learn. The more people who share their insight, the more we can make up that knowledge gap and overcome those challenges. I want others to speak. I want to learn from them. And I want to share what I’ve learned too.
So don’t refuse to talk. Listen. Learn. Gain understanding. Then by all means, share what you’ve learned so others – who want to be good listeners – can have something worthwhile to listen to.
As for the person who doesn’t really know all that much but just wants people’s attention, this is probably where the value of silence is greatest.