Several years ago I had an interview for a research position at the university I was attending. The Professor I was going to speak with was known to be a very stern man.
A friend of mine had interviewed for the same position a few days prior and failed. He said that the professor had hammered him with technical questions to put the pressure on, and he crumbled.
When I walked into the room and sat down in front of him, he had this serious look on his face, as if he really meant business. If I was going to get this job, I would need to come up with a different strategy than my friend had.
After the introductions, I took the initiative to ask him “can you tell me more about your research?” It was a casual question aimed at getting him to talk about his own work.
And so he did, explaining what his research was all about and the great importance of it. The whole time, I sat in silence, just listening and absorbing everything. Every once in a while when he said something very interesting, I’d physically lean in and smile a bit to show him I was interested.
This was great so far! The meeting was scheduled for half an hour and we’d already gone through about 10 minutes by the time he finished talking.
My plan was working and I genuinely found the work quite interesting. I decided to ask an even deeper follow-up question that he could talk more about. I asked him: “Where could we really take this research over the next five years to have a high impact.”
He was practically beaming to answer it. He smiled, sat up in his chair, and took a deep dive into all the nitty-gritty details.
At that point, I knew this was going extremely well. I sat there, quietly and patiently, just listening. In fact, the only time I ever made a sound was when I’d nod and say “right”, to make sure he knew I was paying attention.
As the clock ticked past the 30th minute, he said to me: “Looks like our time is up, but you seem great for this position. Do you think you’d be able to start before the spring break?”
What happened during that meeting was a huge validation of the 4th Law of Power:
“Always say less than necessary”
It was incredible to see it in action. By staying silent and only asking a few thoughtful questions, I could get my professor to talk himself into giving me the job. No convincing on my part, just a little patience, and self-control.
This application of the 4th law of power teaches us the following:
You learn more by listening
No matter the conversation, you always learn more when you listen rather than when you’re talking. If I had interrupted my professor to talk, I wouldn’t have heard all about his research to see if it was even interesting to me.
When you’re the person in the conversation who’s talking, you’re also the one sharing ideas and knowledge. The other person doesn’t even have an opportunity to share things with you while you’re blabbering away. But when you stay silent, patient, and listen, you have the opportunity to absorb information and learn new things.
You can observe more
Studies have shown that only 7% of our communication is done verbally, but 55% is done through body language. Someone crossing their arms is being defensive, and fidgeting is usually a sign of anxiety. Since body language is such a prominent part of our communication, it’s important to be able to observe and correctly interpret it.
It’s hard to pay attention to someone’s body language when you’re the one doing the talking. You’re using up all of your energy to speak and continuously think about what you’re going to say next. You’re expending energy and attention that you could have otherwise directed at understanding the other person’s body language.
At the same time, you should also be aware of your own body language. Staying neutral or slouching could signal to the other person that you don’t care about what they’re saying.
When I was in that meeting, I made sure to convey positive body language (smiling and leaning in) when I heard something interesting. This made it obvious to my professor that I was interested in what he had to say. I saw that his body language became positive after I asked thoughtful questions. I took that as a hint to stay quiet and let him talk more.
You can think before you speak
Listening more gives you the opportunity to think thoroughly about everything you say before you say it. You’ve taken the extra time to think before you speak, to ensure that everything you say is smart and well said. While my professor was explaining his research, I was thinking of the next thought-provoking question I would ask him.
Lots of people make mistakes in interviews because they talk too much. They keep talking because they didn’t see a positive sign from the interviewer, so they think they need to keep going. And the more they talk, the more of a chance there is to say something foolish or make a mistake.
When you’re asked a question, only say what is necessary to answer that specific question. Don’t continue talking in an attempt to ease the fake tension in the room. Your best bet is to be direct and concise, ensuring that everything you say is powerful and minimizing the opportunity for mistakes to arise.
People love you for it
Everyone is used to other people talking. When we’re in a group of friends, it’s not uncommon for the conversation to turn into a cycle of everyone trying to make their opinion heard. They don’t care if anyone in the room actually wanted to hear it or if it would add to the conversation. They just wanted the spotlight.
People really appreciate it when you just shut up and listen. Don’t say anything, don’t comment, don’t share your opinion or random thoughts, just listen. The fact that you’re able to put aside your own inclinations to talk in order to listen to the other person is a huge deal. People subconsciously notice that and value it greatly.
When I was in that meeting, I never interjected to comment on what I thought about the research. I just stayed quiet, listening. My professor practically sold me to himself.
Try this simple “trick” of listening more in conversations. You’ll learn more, have more effective conversations, and make great connections with everyone you talk to.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene