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Shut Up and Listen

Being a successful entrepreneur means knowing when it's best to let others do the talking.

When I first decided to open my own business, my father taught me an important lesson: "The most effective way to grow your business is to let others do the talking." Through his business dealings, he had learned that entrepreneurs who practiced over-the-top self-

promotion rarely captured the attention of others. Potential associates assumed boastful people didn't need the strategies they had to offer.

Incorporating the participation of others is an essential part of creating business success. Our contemporaries have a virtually unlimited amount of information to share, and we must learn to access it through active listening. When you learn to truly relate to another person's point of view, you will discover all types of useful methods for achieving success.

Listening well isn't a skill we're born with; we must develop it and learn to master it. Accomplishing this requires you to be dynamically present for every encounter--a difficult feat with all that goes on each day. Active listening begins with the willingness to recognize the value in every conversation you engage in.

1. Open discussions purposefully. People open up more when they understand how they can contribute. When you meet others, help them contribute to the conversation by clearly stating its purpose. Make it known that you don't have all the answers and you welcome all ideas. This displays confidence and establishes a solid foundation for a worthwhile exchange of ideas.

2. Talk less--learn more. As go-getters, we're inclined to vigorously spill out the knowledge and passion inside us. To be effective communicators, we must reverse the direction of that data stream and let the information come to us. Open yourself up to a whole new realm of ideas by embracing others' points of view. In addition to gaining new insights, you'll validate the contributions of others.

3. Be aware of verbal cues that reveal more than spoken words. The benefits you acquire through patience far outweigh any satisfaction you may receive from relaying your own messages. Don't plan what you're going to say next while a conversation is progressing. Not only will you miss telltale cues--you'll also subliminally communicate that your response is more important than the other person's message.

4. Stick to the subject at hand. People naturally need time to digest any information presented to them. It's easy for important messages to become quickly overshadowed by the addition of new subjects. Offer comments and personal stories that directly relate to the theme being discussed. Then be quiet and listen to the person's response. Maximize your understanding by giving people room to respond to what's being discussed.

5. Learn to disregard your own mood in the pursuit of information. The biggest barrier to listening is preoccupation. Whether your mood is affected by a physical ailment or a recent argument, letting your mind wander will certainly keep you from learning. Train yourself to look others in the eye. It helps maintain your focus and keeps them engaged in the conversation.

Active listening opens a treasure chest of new ideas. Learning how to ingest and apply others' points of view helps you become a better entrepreneur and move one giant step closer to attaining your goals.

Romanus Wolter,aka "The Kick Start Guy," isauthor of Kick Start Your Success and Kick Start Your Dream Business.

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This article was originally published in the September 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Shut Up and Listen.

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