You run your mouth and I’ll run my business, brother

That’s the title of a song written by the great jump bandleader of the 40′s, Louis Jordan, (pictured) If you don’t know who he was, you’re missing out on a huge swath of influential music that impacted rock to hip-hop. You’ve likely heard his music but not know it. A good introduction is Nancy Wilson’s profile on Jordan.

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I recently spoke to an SVP on coaching progress with one of his senior staff. We exchanged observations—Well, not quite; I tried to give him my thoughts, but every time I did, he interrupted to tell me what he thought.

At first I thought maybe it was me, so scaled it back to listen more. When I spoke up, he interrupted again. I didn’t want to catch him on it (as I would have in a coaching session) but it did help me better understand what my coachee was up against; a boss who ran his mouth and didn’t listen.

Then came the coup de grace. Towards the end, he asked for my opinion on one aspect of the person I was coaching. I told him I wasn’t sure I had enough detail to make a judgement. He presented me with a recent scenario, postulated some more, and asked me again what I thought. So, I gave him my insights, albeit carefully, but with enough forethought to make sense.

His reaction?

A wave of the hand and a dismissive “Yeah, OK, but you really don’t know how we work here” retort.

Therein lies the real rub. When people ask me for an opinion, and assuming I weigh in, I’d like to think I have something worth saying most of the time; I’ve been at it long enough.. So when the answer is dismissive, it’s as close to one-upmanship as can be.

The inherent problem is that it almost defines me as being uninformed, after being solicited for an informed opinion. It reminds me of Marshall Goldsmith recounting how he was on an elevator with an elderly lawyer, and someone got on smoking a cigarette (back when people smoked in buildings..). The lawyer panicked, couldn’t get out in time, and told him to put it out, that it was against the law. The smoker was the pugnacious type, kept smoking.. He turned to him and said, “What are you, a lawyer?” and continued to puff away. The lawyer said, “I don’t believe this. You’re acting as if I’m wrong because I happen to be in the elevator while you’re breaking the law.”

If you go to the effort to ask someone for their opinion, thank them once received, and keep your retorts to yourself if you don’t like what you heard. What’s the point of fighting over such stuff? Winning discussions is the domain of the juvenescent, still growing into adulthood.

By the way, this person I’d spoken with is quite successful, sells big-ticket items. He’s not a listener-at least not with me. And not likely with his staff. But he should be.

Lesson? Maintain a closed mouth more often, listen much more than popping off (even if sorely tempted), keep the snappy comebacks at bay, and thank everyone for their comments. The exception is when the input is malicious. People need to be told right then and there if a remark are hurtful-100% of the time. It is not true (read this slowly) that ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Words do indeed hurt, and words can also elevate. Choose your weapon of affirmation or destruction carefully.


Written by Neal Horwitz, President of Henry Hale Maguire


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