Entrepreneurs are passionate people. We want to be heard. But often, knowing when to shut up can benefit you immensely. Cultivating your ability to hold your tongue is important.
Make no mistake, this is something I still struggle with every day. But after twenty years of wishing I’d just kept quiet that one time — here’s my advice:
1. Remember, it’s not personal. It’s business. A few years ago, I sued a major toy company who I thought had infringed on one of my patented technologies. Looking back, I think we could have settled the dispute quickly if cooler heads had prevailed. But I became emotional and so did they. The conflict ended up in federal court after dragging on for three years, which took an enormous toll on me. It’s best not to make decisions when you’re emotional. Step back and ask yourself: Is this the best course of action or am I just upset right now?
2. Pick up the phone. It’s always easier to miscommunicate over email. You’ll strengthen your relationships by clarifying what you and the person you’re in contact with really mean simply by picking up the phone. I have misinterpreted what people have written to me in emails on many occasions. When it comes to sensitive issues in particular — talk it out; don’t just email.
3. Hit “delete. ” The idea that anyone can win an argument over the Internet is laughable. For whatever reason, some people enjoy using their anonymity to be rude and insulting. It’s taken me many years, but I think the best way to respond to my haters is by not saying anything at all. Even if you’re calm, collected and reasonable, whatever you write will only fuel the fire. There are just too many people who get a kick out of riling others up. If you choose not to engage, you’ll be surprised how quickly the conversation dies. And, try to have a sense of humor! Usually, I’m enraged when I first read hateful comments, but later I find them kind of funny.
4. Let go of the need to have the last word. It’s better to fly under the radar. You may feel great about getting in one last jab, but more likely than not, someone else is going to remember your flippant comment long after you do and it will come back to haunt you. It’s just not worth it. I was surprised to hear Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and an investor on Shark Tank, laugh at the SEC on TV and in the media after he was accused of insider trading and found not guilty. That didn’t seem wise. If they had an eye on him before, well, they probably still do now. Gloating is unattractive.
5. Embrace the idea that sometimes, less is more. We’ve all been in meetings where someone asks a simple question and the person in charge goes on and on unnecessarily in response. Remember that most questions can be answered simply. Remind yourself. Everyone you work with will appreciate your ability to be concise. And frankly, it’s also polite. We like the sound of our own voices more than other people do.
6. Realize that certain opinions are best left unspoken. Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion. But that doesn’t mean we need to offer all of ours up. The other day, Martha Stewart declared that she doesn’t think bloggers are experts. Okay, Martha. Sure, that’s your opinion. But I think that was foolish of her, because I’m guessing there are many, many bloggers who help promote her lifestyle brand. What purpose did undermining them serve her? I’m not sure. But it may end up hurting her business. She needs bloggers and influencers as much as everyone else does to push her brand.
7. Get comfortable with awkward silences. When it comes to the art of negotiation, I’ve learned a simple truth: Never speak first. After I explicitly state what it is I want, I clam up. When we’re uncomfortable with an awkward silence, it’s tempting to fill it quickly, but if you do, you might end up saying something without thinking it through. I’ve discovered that the first person to speak usually loses the argument. So make your point, be confident and force yourself to wait for a response.
I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. -Stephen Key