“Any fool can talk too much, and most fools do.”

On one of my first sales calls, an experienced rep in our office agreed to ride along to observe.

I had no idea what I was doing and hoped he would jump in when appropriate. My concern was related to a technical question that I didn’t have an answer to.

Because of course, I needed zero help when it came to talking. I am extroverted and energized by conversation. This role played right into my natural strengths, or so I thought.

We got through the meeting without any hiccups. The customer asked no questions that stumped me and seemed to be interested in what we had to offer. Feeling myself in the car ride back to the office, I asked my counterpart for his perspective.

“What did you learn about the customer today?”

For such a simple question, I found it hard to answer. I tossed out a few tertiary bits and pieces, but nothing I didn’t already know from my preparation.

“Let me ask you a different question. Who did most of the talking?”

This took little thought. It was me.

“What percentage of the time were you talking versus the customer?”

Damn, another killer question from my coach.

“Um, maybe 80% of the meeting?”

What percentage should it be if you want to get to know him?


“Wrong. It should be 80/20 in favor of the customer if you want to connect. Nothing you have to say is as important to him as what he has to say. And you can’t help him if you don’t understand him.”

I never forgot that conversation.

Listening Is Difficult For Some

Listening can be counterintuitive for extroverts and A-types. We have a natural inclination to fill any stretch of silence with noise.

Making matters worse, we model what we see and it is difficult to notice when someone is being an effective listener. But a smooth talker will get our attention every time.

This poses a problem in business because a large portion of sales reps and managers are promoted from the ranks of extroverts. And what do we know about the difference between extroverts and introverts?

  • Extroverts tend to be energized by people. They typically think by talking.
  • Introverts tend to recharge — and thus energize — when alone. They typically think before or after talking.

But I’ve found that listening will get you much farther than talking. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Talk to someone about themselves and they will listen for hours.”

A great manager is focused on serving the people who report to them. I wrote about the importance of leaders sharing their experiences as a means of coaching. But most great managers spend more time listening so they can understand exactly where someone needs help.

Harvard Business Review found that people start to tune someone out after just 30 seconds of uninterrupted talking. If that is the case, how can a sales rep or manager create cues to more effectively get their points across?

Tips For Self-Muzzling

I love the W.A.I.T. acronym which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” I learned this in a sales class and would go as far as to the write WAIT at the top of my notes before every meeting with a customer.

With enough practice, I no longer need the reminder. As I started to monologue, a little voice in my head would nudge me with, “What Am I Talking?”

To truly influence someone, we should listen 80% of the time and talk for 20% (The 80/20 Rule).

If our goal is to reach a ratio of 80/20 of our counterpart talking to ours, what needs to come out of our mouth when we are talking?


Questions are the most powerful tool in the game of influence and persuasion. They put your counterpart at ease and focus the spotlight on what it is important to them.

I’ve watched managers talk uninterrupted for 5-10 minutes at a time. To comprehend the absurdity of that length of time, try sitting in a room with someone and NOT talking for 5-10 minutes.

How uncomfortable would you feel? Well, how is that any different for the person who has to listen for that long? How much do they retain?

Another self-muzzling technique is the “Stoplight approach.”

  • In the first 20 seconds of talking, your light is green. Your listener is engaged so long as you talk about something important to them.
  • After 20 seconds, the light turns yellow. The risk increases that the other person may lose interest in your monologuing.
  • At the 40-second mark, your light is red. You are likely losing your counterpart.

Another way I think about timing is by picturing myself sprinting at maximum effort while talking. How long could I last before passing the baton?

Use what works for you with the goal of always talking less and listening more.


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