To speak with knowledge or listen with wisdom?

rock balancing

A few days ago I wrote “Presence and asking the right questions” and used this same image of rock balancing.

Today the post title is a riff on a phrase Chip Conley uses in his book Wisdom at Work in encouraging us to listen more and talk less:

“Knowledge talks, Wisdom listens”

For me today my thoughts are around finding balance in when to talk and share knowledge, versus when to listen.

To Do or To Be

Transmit or Receive

Knowledge speaks

Wisdom listens

At the Modern Elder Academy and in Chip Conley’s book “Wisdom at Work” one repeated theme is that, as we enter midlife, we tend to unconsciously be out of balance in that we speak more than we listen, we transmit more than receive, we are doing rather than being so much of the time.

There is a tremendous value, then, in taking time to learn to shift that balance and listen more, receive more, then speak less and speak with more impact when we do, having synthesised what we can bring to the other person once we have deeply listened to them.

For me, this week was, for different and unrelated reasons, a real challenge and opportunity to focus on being present and to deepen my own awareness of when I choose to listen and when I choose to speak.

Did I find balance in when to speak and when to listen? Do I have the answer?


For me, I have always found this balance to be challenging and I am therefore on a lifelong journey to improve in this area.

I’m told I have a sharp mind full of accumulated knowledge that I can synthesise to add value to others. I can often understand the root of what they need within a really short time, sometimes before they realise. Great, one might say, I can then speak from knowledge and tell them the answer quickly, how valuable to them. Hmm, sometimes, but sometimes that can really land on others that they have not been heard, not been listened to, that this smart guy is showing off how smart he is and not really being of service.

Have I felt this over the years? Many times, often with the awareness that yes, I was trying to show how smart I am. As Stephen Covey advised, “listen with the intent to understand, not to reply”, yet I’ve often done the latter in life.

Perhaps this internal challenge to find balance between speaking and listening was a key driver about a decade ago for me to seek to go on a journey to learn to coach, to learn to listen. Around that time I was basically known as an expert who knew a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff (then the sometimes spoken caveat could be “and is a bit full of himself”) and I wasn’t happy with that.

I’m now a decade into focussing on listening more than talking, constantly looking to deepen my practice in learning more and in different ways.

Will I ever find balance between speaking with knowledge and listening with wisdom? No, yet I will get closer and closer to knowing where that balance sits, when to speak, when to listen. As with yoga, it is a practice, we are never “there”.

I hope that by sharing my story stimulates you to consider your own balance when asking yourself the question:

To speak with knowledge or listen with wisdom?

Also published on Medium.

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