Chet Burger, one of the great corporate counselors of our time, told me at least 30 years ago that if I wanted to win the confidence of a potential client, I needed to talk less and listen more.

I took his advice. I told my young associate before we went into our next client pitch, “Chet says if we can get this executive to talk more than we talk, we are more likely to win the account.”

We did it. We asked a few questions. We answered his and asked him more questions. We shut up and listened. The client chose us.

About a month into the work, I took the executive to lunch. My agenda was to get his reaction to what we’d done so far and his insights to improve our odds of winning in his industry’s particular issue.

In short, I needed to learn if we were on the same wave length.

Here’s the kicker: As we left the restaurant, he touched my shoulder and said, “You’re a good listener.” And I thought, thank you, Chet. I get it: the key to counseling is learning how to reach best achievable outcomes. It’s a two-way deal—and when you’re talking, you’re not learning.

An academic, Donald L. Finkel, does a little twist on this in his book Teaching with Your Mouth Shut. He recognizes that teaching is not about delivering lectures. It’s about engaging with students to get them to talk, ask questions, dig into the subject you of course already know all about—and thereby to learn.

Another book by an educator (a book I was lucky enough to find about the time that I got the offer to serve as adjunct professor at Georgetown) emphasizes Finkel’s epiphany. Ken Bain, in What the Best College Teachers Do (winner of a Harvard University Press award for best book on education and society), states it bluntly: “teaching occurs only when learning takes place.”

Teaching is not telling. And counseling—whether it’s an agency working with a client or a CCO sitting down with the CEO—is not selling.

Or, let me amend that by quoting a very smart counselor who happens to be my brother Sam (author, IdeaSelling) and a fellow-follower of Chet Burger: selling happens when listening and learning happen.

E. Bruce Harrison
Chief Executive Officer
EnviroComm International