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Winning Words

Listen first, respond second, and do both with great care


Over the past 10 years, many of you have asked me a similar question. You have asked me for one of the best lessons that I have learned over the course of my career and my life. Historically I have not called them out specifically, instead I have strived to pass along some of those lessons through insights shared in this weekly column. Today, however, I will share what I believe is one of the greatest life lessons I have ever learned. May it have the same impact on you as it did on me.

In 2008, my boss, my mentor, and my friend Zig Ziglar was asked to speak at an executive retreat for about 400 people. The sponsoring corporation was a Fortune 50 company. The executive retreat was taking place over three days and they had several big-name celebrities, subject matter experts, and professional athletes who were going to speak to the group at different times over the three-day event. Mr. Ziglar was going to be the last speaker on the final day of the retreat. And for me, well I was the president of the company at the time and I was invited to the event as well. Mostly I was just Zig’s bag man and I was happy and proud to have that job for Zig at any time.

Mr. Ziglar was scheduled to speak in the afternoon. The lunch that day was held oceanside with white linen tablecloths and a fine dining experience set up on the beach. We were invited to sit with the CEO, the CFO, and the chairman of the board along with the other guest speakers and celebrities who were participating that week. At that point they had all given their talk and the only one left to speak was Zig Ziglar later that afternoon.

As we enjoyed lunch, there were some very good discussions going on. Some very intriguing questions and stimulating conversation. I watched and observed Mr. Ziglar as he quietly and deliberately ate his lunch and took it all in. At a table with some very highly educated people, extremely business savvy folks, and celebrities who were not at a loss for opinions or words, it became obvious that Mr. Ziglar was not participating in the conversation. Not yet anyway.

A question came up and before anyone else could answer the CEO stopped and asked Mr. Ziglar if he would like to share his thoughts. And Zig looked at me, winked, put down his fork and knife and said, “Thank you, I thought you would never ask, and why yes I do have a thought or two I would like to share.” The question was about character and integrity in a corporate environment. Zig summed it all up, confidently, quietly, with conviction, and from a position of confidence based on his own fundamental belief system. I can’t include every single word Zig spoke that day, so I will give you the punch line, “Reputation is what you have done in this life, character and integrity is who you are.”

In sharing one of life’s great lessons with you, you might be thinking it is Mr. Ziglar’s response that I quoted above. Although it certainly is another great life lesson, the lesson I want to pass along is how Mr. Ziglar, at a table with prominent and powerful business executives, celebrities, and professional athletes, did not get caught up in the “who’s who” of life. He sat quietly, listened, waited for his moment, and then provided a response that had every single person at the table hanging on the edge of their seat.

How often do we just jump in and try and become part of a conversation, competing for air time, and wanting to prove our knowledge? How often do we think about what it is we want to say instead of listening, truly listening, and waiting for the appropriate time to respond? It’s one thing to read books, watch videos and take courses on best practices and business principles, and I strongly advocate for all of those as we grow personally and professionally. But I was so very blessed to have watched it happen real-time, live, and right in front of my eyes. I still pinch myself whenever I think about my 12 years of working with Zig Ziglar, his family, and the many people who were part of the Ziglar corporation.

The lesson: Humble quietness, active listening, and responding from a position of confidence and conviction when appropriate. No blustering to hear yourself speak.

So how about you? Do you make it a point to listen, truly listen, and then respond when appropriate or are you already thinking about what you want to say? Maybe you too have mastered the art of quiet humbleness and active listening. Either way, I would live to hear your story at gotonorton@gmail.com, and when we are blessed enough to capture one of life’s lesson and then apply it in our own life, it really will be a better than good week.

Michael Norton is a resident of Castle Rock, the president of the Zig Ziglar Corporate Training Solutions Team, a strategic consultant and a business and personal coach.


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