Are you a good listener?

July 2nd, 2014 by Bob Bly

In the 1980s, when Burroughs announced its plan to merge with
fellow computer giant Sperry, they turned to a big NYC ad agency
for help naming the new company.

The ad agency turned to me … and a bunch of other copywriters …
and paid us for name suggestions.

My simple-minded solution, Sperry/Burroughs, was not chosen. Nor
was my alternative: Burroughs/Sperry.

The winner, as some of you may know, was Unisys – and I can’t
say the freelancer who sold that to the agency and its client
earned his fee.

I bring this up because, for reasons unknown, a few years before
the merger, Sperry ran a major corporate ad campaign around the
theme of “listening.”

Although I think the campaign was a dud, the idea of becoming a
good listener is a valuable one.

I will never forget a line in one of their content pieces on
listening: “Remember, you have only one mouth but two ears. So
you should listen twice as much as you talk.”

It’s relevant, because increasingly people ask for my advice
and counsel, and then when I try to give it, constantly talk
over me and never listen to a word I say.

For instance, entrepreneur CM called a few weeks ago asking for
advice on how to market his business.

He did not want to become a paying client. He just wanted to
pick my brain for free.

As is always the case, I said yes, with a line I learned from
speaker Patricia Fripp.

“CM, I charge $500 an hour, but I will give you 5 minutes,
starting now.”

By the way, if you charge $500 an hour, 5 minutes of your time
is a gift worth $41.67 — a nice freebie for a stranger you don’t

So CM told me his marketing idea. But instead of shutting up and
getting the answer, he proceeded to tell me why he was convinced
it was brilliant, his life story, and on and on.

Finally, I said in a loud voice what Charlie on “Its Always
Sunny in Philadelphia” loves to say to talkers: “Stop talking!”

CM stopped, and I said: “CM, you asked me the question. I know
the answer. Can you be quiet and let me tell you the answer?”

Actually, I insisted that he stop talking because (a) my time
is valuable and (b) since he was not paying me, he was wasting
it. And what would be my incentive to allow a non-client to do

The kicker to the story: When I told CM his idea will not work,
he began arguing vehemently. I (figuratively) held up my hand
and said once again:

“Stop. I don’t care what you do. Do what you want. You asked
for advice. I gave it. Five minutes up. Goodbye and good luck.”

Some days it does not pay to get out of bed, but despite that, I
am here at the PC every day by 6am, in case you have something
to ask me.

Only … whether you are a paying client or a freebie … wouldn’t
it make sense to stop talking enough to get my answer?

If you are a paying client, I will gladly debate its merits
until you are comfortable with my explanation and can make an
informed decision about whether to accept my advice.

If you are a freebie seeker on my 5 minute meter, I will not.

Action step: implement Sperry’s 2:1 rule in your life: Listen at
least twice as much as you talk — and you will be well served
whether you are a customer, a vendor, or a moocher.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 at 8:12 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

25 responses about “Are you a good listener?”

  1. Jen @ Daycare In Demand said:

    I’m pretty impressed by your 5-minute freebie offer, Bob! I personally would not take you up on it without compensating you for that time, but how nice of you to do it at all. I’m sure whatever you could tell me in 5 mins would be worth a heck of a lot more than $41.67.

  2. Bob Bly said:

    Thanks, Jen. I think it is fair and generous. Many do not. Their logic is that is is unfair that I do not offer free or paid coaching or mentoring.

  3. Susanna Hutcheson said:

    Excellent post, Bob. I awoke with a similar post of my own in mind. I no longer speak to anyone without getting paid. I’ve had so much of my precious time wasted by blow hards and tire kickers that I put the brakes on it – totally. I don’t even give ’em 5 minutes.

    But your point of listening is a good one. How many times do we make an effort to have a conversation and the other person interrupts with great rudeness when you try and enter a statement or ask a question? This is so annoying.

    I will just shut up and let them talk. They think what they’re saying is far more important than anything I have to say. Fine. If they were to listen, they might have learned something from which they would have profited.

    In my long life I’ve learned that by listening I learn. By talking, I find out nothing new at all.

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  8. Hydeee said:

    Very profound. Decently written.
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  9. Ken A said:

    Thanks for your point of view, Bob. When I was a child I was always admonished by my mother not to interrupt adults when they spoke. As I grew older I noticed how some adults would never listen even when they asked me as a kid “what do you think?” And when I started to give my interpretation I was invariably cut off and not given my chance to express myself. As an adult I came to the conclusion that listening is a greater virtue than speaking but you have to know when it’s time to interject and join in the conversation or walk away.

  10. Christa said:

    I read that the dollars waisted on failed meetings cost America $1.3 million a year…

    I think it is understated.

    I call listening: emotional discipline and for that I would charge definitely over the first 5 minutes.

    It is a very rare commodity and if it was more easily available everybody would’ve been decades ahead doing much more and better business…

    …where trust would’ve been a given.

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