As a corporate man by day, and an entrepreneur by night, I’ve attended my fair share of meetings over the last decade or so.
Meetings can be an odd experience. Before you know it the meeting can get out of control. Leaders with pinstripe suits or hair that is turning grey quicker by the day can lose the plot. They flex their ego with words. In other words, they talk a lot. As the meeting wears on the duel continues. Leaders throw words around. Those looking for their next promotion do the same.
Looking smart is key. You use spreadsheets and insert phrases into customer’s mouths that they never said to ensure you’re seen as right or most in touch with the customer.
It’s all bullshit. The meeting is a waste of time. No resolution is reached.
But it’s not all bad. Meetings have taught me one valuable lesson: watch the quiet people.
There are these hidden people that attend meetings. They say nothing. You can attend ten meetings in a row and never hear them say a word. Their words are a privilege reserved for the royal family. You find yourself dying to know what they would say. They act like a fly on the wall. With every meeting, they get smarter, by saying nothing at all.
They observe the loud beasts, rather than become a beast.
I used to be loud in meetings. These quiet people changed my mind. Now I try to sit quietly in most meetings and not say a word. I’m a long way from mastering this skill but it has already taught me so much.
The loudest person in the room is not the most senior, or necessarily the brightest spark.
Job titles make people do stupid things. One of those misdemeanors is talking too much. You can have a title today and have it gone tomorrow.
What ruins business is people that don’t listen. They think they know the market but actually they don’t know anything at all.
The brightest spark in the room says nothing at all. They are there taking notes and paying attention to what is going on. They watch the duel of egos and see no room to interrupt.
When the meeting is over they go back to their desk and help complete the list of actions. They are a doer, not a talker.
The person who talks the loudest and the most in the meeting is not the smartest. They are drowning out the solutions of the people who do the real work.
It’s okay to sit in silence. It doesn’t make you a loser; it makes you smart.
Bright sparks know when to shut up.
Of course, there are times when you’ll be asked to speak about a topic. You can’t say no, or do hand signals.
The idea is to speak with as few words as possible and make your point. Then, once you’ve said what you need to say in the shortest amount of time possible, know when to shut up.
Knowing when not to talk is an art.
If you can learn to shut up at the right times, you can hear the unspoken people. You can also hear what is not being said.
Bright sparks know when to listen, and learn.
To shut up is to listen.
To listen is to change your life.
Why? When you listen you learn. When I was working a job and was way out of my depth looking after a billion-dollar Silicon Valley Tech company, I listened my way to mastery. By sitting in meeting after meeting and saying nothing, I learned what the customer did and how my employer’s business worked. Nobody in those meetings ever found out that I had no idea.
When you listen, people then assume you know what you’re doing. And guess what? You will know what you’re doing if you listen.
I remember hearing about a guy (forgot his name) that listened his way into meetings. By using the art of listening, he climbed his way up to joining meetings with the two founders of Google.
All he did was sit there and shut up, and simply offer to take the notes for the meeting. Nobody ever questioned him. What he learned in those meetings completely changed his life. He excelled much faster in his career because he was ahead of the knowledge curve, thanks to the meetings he got to attend.
If you listen, you’re going to learn things they can never teach you in a prestigious university. You could argue this man’s education that he got from the two founders of Google was better than his university degree — all by listening.
Praise quietness, not hot air and noise.
My aim in meetings now is to be the least quiet person in the room. There is so much hot air and noise in meetings that achieve nothing. Your desire to be heard in meetings could be stopping your learning.
Your ego makes you talk too much. If you learn to take yourself lightly and dial down your own importance, you’ll end up saying less in meetings.
The loudest person in the room is the dumbest because he/she doesn’t know, or have the discipline to shut up. It’s tragic. Don’t make your life a tragedy by talking too much in meetings.
Quiet people change the world because they hear things others don’t.
Fall in love with quiet people in meetings.
Study those gorgeous quiet creatures.
You too can be a quiet person if you choose — but first, you have to see the magic of quiet people, to be moved to silence.
This article originally appeared in Medium.