The truth about good listening skills

Powerful people do not have good listening skills. They hate to listen. They succeed by getting good at faking it. Here’s how I know. There are sixteen Myers Briggs personality types. Only 4% of people are ENTJs, but almost all Fortune 500 CEOs are ENTJs. Each type has an Achilles’ heel. The ESFP can’t stand being alone. The INTP can’t get their head out of the clouds. The ENTJ can’t listen.

Which means that listening skills must not be essential for major success in the corporate world. So maybe instead of building your listening skills, you should buy the book How to Talk so People Listen. If you’re an extrovert, you think while you’re talking. And it’s impossible to listen to someone if you are thinking of the next thing you want to say.

As an ENTJ I get bored with the idea of becoming a better listener. Why would I do that when interrupting people is so much faster? And anyway, there is great advice on how to deal with the people who won’t listen. Forbes magazine says that if you want people to listen to you, you should cut to the chase. That’s great advice. If you could just get your idea out faster, I would listen to it.

Ask Men has some advice on how to practice listening. We talk about practice a lot in my house because learning an instrument is about practicing an instrument. You play like you practice. Even baseball stars like A-Rod. It doesn’t matter if you’re gifted if you don’t have good practice skills because you won’t be able to leverage your gifts.

This seems true enough that I am sure I can’t handle this level of conscious practice for good listening. So instead I’m going to have to become the maven of the world of bad listeners.

It is no coincidence that I married someone who is an ISTP, which is the personality type that speaks the fewest words each day. At first I found that frustrating, because how could I know if he is being persuaded by all my great ideas if he is always silent while I’m talking? I realized, though, that he is great at figuring out what’s going on by way of silence.

I have tried silence, by the way. I’ve started gardening. At first it was just some garden beds around the house. Then it was lots of garden beds. With a bulldozer.

Then, when it got cold, I planted some bulbs, and then I planted about 500 bulbs a day. For months.

I ordered bulbs online, in wholesale quantities, every other day so I always had some to plant. And when I was shopping locally, buying 500 more bulbs because I was scared I’d run out,  someone said to me, “Wow. You’ll have an amazing garden next year.” 

I smiled and thought: If she only knew…

As it got cold, in the snow, the dirt was still soft. You can plant until the dirt freezes. Global warming is on my side. As the days got shorter  I planted bulbs in the dark until the night I was tearing apart grass to make my bed wider and I accidentally tore apart the carcass of a dead rabbit.

I threw out my clothes and kept planting, but only in daylight after that. I started to worry that my artistry was gone. After all, it’s hard to not dig up bulbs when you are planting 15,000 bulbs. Which is about how many I have planted. In layers: early spring, mid spring, late spring.

I told the Farmer I planted too many bulbs and people will think I have no talent for garden design. I told him that if it looks stupid and unplanned then I will tell people it’s a “pick-your-own bouquet” farm and I’ll let the kids run it as a business in the spring.

The Farmer said, “This is not a garden; this is a monument to maintaining sanity.”

I was so surprised by his insight, but he’s right. We never talked about it, I never even told him what I was doing day to day. But he sees that I’m planting bulbs for some other reason than the spring fireworks. It’s beyond that. Something else is driving me.

We didn’t need to talk. Which I guess is good because he doesn’t really talk.

I did a webinar last week where I taught people how to write about themselves, and then the last night the Farmer fielded live questions from the chat room about what it’s like to have someone write about you on a blog.

I was nervous about the night he did the webinar with me. I was completely in control the other nights. It’s my sweet spot, because we are sort of having a conversation because the chat room is always full of people saying stuff that I respond to. But also, people can’t really talk to me because I really am lecturing, and I really just like to hear myself talk. Because it’s how I think. And we all need thinking time, right?

So I worried that if the Farmer is taking the questions, then how will I control the conversation? My first line of attack was quizzing him.

“What would you say,” I asked him, “if someone said, doesn’t it bother you that you are the Farmer instead of a real name? That’s so disrepectful.” I actually get a reprimanding email once a month saying that. Which I do not listen to, of course, because I’m a bad listener.

So he said, “It’s fine that she calls me the Farmer but I can’t believe it took her three years to use a capital F. The Ex got a capital right away.”

That was a good answer. I relaxed. Until the night it was scheduled.

But you know what happened? I listened. He was so sweet and earnest and even when someone asked him “What are the benefits of having someone blog about your relationship?” He said “None. There are no benefits.” But I still kept quiet and listened.

And here’s what I discovered: it’s very intimate to listen to someone. It’s intimate to calm down your head from ideas and just receive their ideas. You have to be really in tune with that person to keep your mind from going somewhere else. And it’s so intimate to wait to hear what the person says next.

People were shocked to hear me so quiet. Me too. Because I wasn’t thinking. I was listening. I was feeling what it feels like to have the Farmer reveal all our secrets. That’s usually my job. But this time I listened and it was like we were having date night. Live. I loved hearing what he’s thinking, and I don’t think he’d have bothered talking if I hadn’t shut up. That’s why intimacy requires listening. And that’s why it’s so hard.


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  1. Shawn Hessinger
    Shawn Hessinger says:

    There is definitely a kind of split personality that goes on with entrepreneurs and thought leaders, I think. On one hand, you have ideas that you want to communicate with others. You wouldn’t be who you are without the belief in your own thought processes and your own approach to problems. On the other hand, listening gains you additional insight. It gives you the information you use as raw materials in some of those ideas. So listening is also a step in this process. But knowing when to do one and when to do the other is the trick. Thanks to Heather Stone, by the way, for sharing this post with the BizSugar community.

  2. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    I loved your descriptioin of the intimacy created by listening. It was beautiful…

    On a related subject, I’ve noticed is that it is impossible to listen if someone is not talking.

    Thanks for the blog, I am really enjoying it.


  3. Laura
    Laura says:

    Good Listening skills, I believe is genetic. Its either you are good or poor. It depends on whether your ancestors socialised much or just spend most times working. I guess it goes hand in hand with good eye contact or poor eye contact. interesting article

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