While most parents I know reject the adage that children should be seen and not heard, leadership and personality gurus tell adults to shut up and listen. For evidence, plug the title of this blog post into your favorite search engine. What’s up? Do we want people to talk when they’re young and stop it when they’re grown?
Like most generalized advice, the wisdom of listening more and speaking less varies with the direction you tend to err. Are you more apt to dominate or defer? Though I haven’t found a whit of advice to talk more and listen less, “find your voice” generates millions of hits. Some youth programs use a ground rule “step up, step back,” asking quieter participants to extend themselves and more assertive participants to give them space.
Of course, “be seen” is not the same as “listen.” Less obviously, talking is not always the equivalent of self-expression. The goal isn’t just to take turns or achieve balance, but to absorb and process what we hear and let it inform our output.
One writing instructor prohibits the student whose work is under discussion from speaking until everyone's comments are finished, sometimes an hour or more. Then there’s a chance to ask questions. This is remarkably effective at quelling the urge to retort, defend, or argue. Forbidden to talk, all the student can do is soak it up and take notes. The input starts to gel. Over time, listening and applying what I hear strengthens my artistic voice.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.