From the Archive: One secret to understanding people better

Don't just listen, practice silence as well.
Don’t just listen, practice silence as well.

I was able to read and finish a book on a flight to a conference in Las Vegas last week. The book is Dave Kerpen’s The Art of People. It is a very readable book chocked full of pretty sound advice. The subtitle of the book is “11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want”, though that is divided into 53 total tips. I think this should be mandatory reading for everyone in HR, particularly if they are just starting out.

Be interested

Kerpen’s Tip number four is one that I have heard before and used. It has its roots in Dale Carnegie who said “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”  Kerpen sums it up by saying “It is more important to be interested than to be interesting.” I totally agree with this and have said it numerous times and I try to apply it as much as possible.

It is more important to be interested than to be interesting.

Shut up and listen

One fault many managers and HR people have is that they love to hear themselves talk. Unfortunately, when a person talks he reduces his capacity to listen. Kerpen proved to himself the importance of listening by announcing at the beginning of a management meeting that he would not be speaking, he was going to listen only. He said that as a result of sitting back and listening he “…gained more insight in just one hour than I had in weeks. And they [his team] felt more understood, empowered, and respected than ever before – and it made them like me better as a boss, as well!”

Active listening

The key to this is both active listening, a tip we read all the time, and practicing silence. Resist the temptation to talk. If it is necessary you can respond by asking questions such as “What else?” or by saying “Tell me more.” I remember a story told by a writer and speaker where he said he had sat with a woman who was on vacation and just listened to her. At the end of an hour he had to leave but when they parted ways she told him he was the most interesting man she had met all vacation, despite that all he had done was asked questions.


Try silence and see what it gets you. Employees may open up more and you may learn a great deal more than if you spend all your time talking and “telling” them.

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