Tag Archives: knowledge


NO coincidence –

I was listening to the news one morning while getting dressed for work, and I heard someone say, “You know, silent and listen are basically the same word.”  I didn’t think much about it at first, but as I was finishing my breakfast, I realized that silent and listen are anagrams.  An anagram is when you rearrange letters in a word to make a different word using the same letters.

Off all the common anagrams, this one seemed to have a deeper meaning.  I did a quick Google search and came across a quote from Alfred Brendel that says, “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters – coincidence? I don’t think so.”

On my commute to work I received a phone call from a close friend saying they needed to vent and they wanted to know if I had few minutes to LISTEN to them.  Coincidence?  My friends typically call me for my advice, but this call was very specific to listening.  Given the events of the morning, I graciously agreed to listen and sat on the other side of the line – SILENT.

What I learned that morning was how important it is to just listen sometimes.  In today’s society, advice seems to be in abundance, but there seems to be a shortage of people actually listening.  While feedback is a gift and carries a great deal of power, sometimes giving someone your undivided attention can be just as powerful, if not more, especially if that is what they need in that moment.

Most people are comfortable speaking, and if they are not, they will seek out ways to improve their communication skills.  However, it is rare to find anyone actively working on improving his or her listening skills.  At work and in our personal lives, listening skills are critical, because we spend most of our time interacting with others.  People need to know their opinion matters (empathy), you hear them (processing) and that you are listening without judgment (acknowledgement).  Among its many benefits, listening builds trust and respect, enables information sharing, and encourages collaborative problem solving.

Give people the simple gift of listening.

  • Before the conversation
    • Plan to limit the time you are speaking to 20-25% of the time
    • Remove all distractions
    • During the conversation
      • Notice the speakers body language and be mindful of your own: eye contact, facial expressions and body language
      • Paraphrase and asking clarifying questions
      • After the conversation
        • Say thank you and identify any follow-ups

Here are some of my favorite quotes about the skill of listening:

  • “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” –Doug Larson
  • “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” –Bryant H. McGill
  • “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” –Bernard Baruch
  • “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey
  • “The art of conversation lies in listening.” –Malcom Forbes
  • “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” –M. Scott Peck
  • “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” –Diogenes


My favorite game to play, besides scrabble of course, is spades.  I was first introduced to the game of spades when I was a middle school student.  Learning to play in middle school was a lifesaver because in the seventh grade I started taking classes at my local high school.  Most of the upperclassmen just stared at me like a caged zoo animal until the day they needed a fourth player.

“Hey kid, do you know how to play spades?” I was asked.

“Yep”, I responded

“Do you know how to play well,” they asked.

“Why is that important? You afraid to lose?” I asserted.

The entire class started laughing, and I was invited to sit at the spades table.

Spades continued to be a game that I enjoyed playing throughout high school and college.  When I first stepped onto the campus of Florida A&M University and into my dorm, three complete strangers greeted me.   We were from different parts of the country, sounded very different, had different majors, and had different life experiences.  Other than being four black males randomly chosen to live in the same place, there was one more thing that we had in common; we were all spades players.

After unpacking and saying our good-byes to our families, we sat down to play.  Less than five minutes into the game, I’m sure our neighbors could hear the arguing and shouting coming from our apartment.

What happened you might ask?

We all sat down to play a game we grew up loving but never took the time to understand how each person played the game.  Once we started talking we realized that we all played the game very differently.  Our discussion revealed rules such as first hand bids itself, blind bids, various deuces as trumps, three books for a renege, and finally sand bags.

Most serious spades players equate it to life, and here is why:  In life, when you find yourself in a new environment, you have to learn the rules.  Sometimes you may be able to discover them through observation, but that may take too long. Often times it requires asking upfront or doing a little research.  There are written and unwritten rules in life that if ignored, can not only lead to a breakdown in communication but also lead to negative consequences.

When joining a new company, it is important to understand the company’s culture.  It is not ok to assume that because you could wear jeans on a Friday or come in at 9:00 a.m. at your old company that the same will work at your new company.  Your ability to learn the rules and then play by them impact your ability to be successful at this game I call corporate America.  The same applies for traveling domestically or internationally, composing your behavior in certain professional or social settings, or even dating.  Never make the assumption that what worked somewhere else or with someone else is going to work somewhere new or with someone new.

Lastly, and most importantly, in some situations, these rules are long established and are very difficult to change.  Translation: you will not be able to show up on day one and change the game.  Even if you were in a position where you had the power to do so, culture change is difficult and often requires a significant amount of time.  You would be better off leaving a company rather than trying to change its culture.  On the flip side, some situations are so fluid that the rules change frequently, so you have to be adept at adjusting or you will find yourself out of the game.