Each month in this column series I ask a different question to you, the ExitEvent Entrepreneur. Thought provoking questions that are meant to get you to sit back and think. Each month I offer insight into the question, along with common mistakes made by (us) entrepreneurs, and a key take-away for you to think more about. My goal—to increase your self-awareness as an entrepreneur and a leader. 

InsightLet’s face it, when it comes to listening, there are two very different approaches: 
  • Listen with the intent to respond.
  • Listen with the intent to understand.

We entrepreneurs love to go fast. We speak fast, we move fast, we act fast (each of you who are actually reading this column are reading it at a fast pace!). We love everything to be at fast speed in our entrepreneurial lives. We love to be decisive and we have the utmost confidence in our dreams… that is why we are entrepreneurs right? So what’s the problem? 

I thought it was very ironic that that I focused on listening in this column. Active Listening. Most of you are way too busy to take the time to read columns in the first place, and even if you read them, would you slow down long enough to actually take in the content that was written?  To really listen to what was being said? Or would you scan it just like I did in the early days, trying to get through the 197 things on my “to do” list today, including this column. Try it…slow down…right now. 

When you read this column, will you spend more time thinking about what was written or defending your current position against mine, coming up with all sorts of reasons why I am wrong and you are right? 

Common Mistake madeIn the early days of my entrepreneurial career, I clearly listened with the intent to respond. I listened to what other people were saying, and then I went on and explained to them why I was right or they were wrong. I dug in to justify and defend because I just knew my position was right. 

I know we enter our entrepreneurial careers as optimists and full of self-confidence—I would suggest we are also full of ego. We spend our days building out our businesses on what we know, and yes we know a lot, don’t we? Unfortunately, when we approach each day with this strategy, we miss out on learning about everything we don’t know, and even further, we completely miss out on what we didn’t know we didn’t know. 

Key Take-awayThere are a handful of lessons learned over the past 25 years that were game-changers for me. Learning to actively listen with the intent to understand is in the top three. As a mentor to entrepreneurial leaders, I can say with the utmost confidence and encouragement that this must be a game changer for you as well. 

We can learn golden nuggets from anyone, anywhere if we are just willing to really listen. Remember, it is not our job to know everything; it is our job to surround ourselves with great people who can help us take our dream all the way to fruition. 

What am I asking you to do? To listen. To actively listen. To listen with the intent to understand what the other person is saying, and then to ask follow-up questions to gain further clarification on his or her points. Then, you can decide whether you want to do anything with the new information you just heard. 

It is truly amazing what other people know and can pass on to us, information that can be massively helpful to our organizations. The next time you find yourself nodding your head (but clearly not listening) to somebody who is talking, stop and clear your mind and listen to what they have to say. It just might be the game-changing idea you have been looking for, and it might come from the unlikeliest of sources too. Now, you can speed up again, go!