Discover your Listening Villain

Understanding the power of the 125-400 rule of listening

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ~  Pablo Picasso

The first ingredient for deep listening is to treat silence like another word in the conversation.

This is the first ingredient in the recipe of deep listening. The reason why it’s critical to pay attention and listen completely including the pauses, the silence and thoughtful moments in a discussion is because of the simple maths between speaking and hearing. Although you can listen at 400 words per minute, you can only speak at between 125-175 words per minute. (Carver, Johnson, & Friedman, 1970).


For any given thought that you might  want to express you can only get out 1/3 in the spoken form for a given moment of time. The likelihood that someone can express the idea in their head completely and effectively the very first time they speak about a concept is very low.

Therefore, it’s critical to understand that the pause, the breath – that moment when the speaker revisits what they haven’t fully expressed in the most recent sentence – isn’t the time for you to jump in and ask a question, contrast with your perspective or start a new path in the discussion.

Their pause is the most critical moment your listening.

It is in the pause where people start to notice what your intention is. A pause fully and completely explored moves the speaker from a place of thinking you are listening, to a place where they feel heard.

In the pause, you and the speaker can completely and fully explore whatever is being discussed. The pause creates space for the speaker to fully express their thinking with the remaining 2/3rd of their thinking in their own mind. Alternatively, the speaker can use the space created by the pause to revisit the way they just explained something in a more precise and succinct way or a completely new way. Either way, it will progress the discussion beyond where it started and creates a deeper and richer understanding for the listener and the speaker in the discussion, and what they want to do to progress the conversation.

Creating care and respect for the pause is the first step in fully listening to their words.

As with the book without a spine at the beginning of the chapter, you need a structure to bind words together to make sense for what is being said. If all you do is listen to words cascading over you, it’s like standing at the bottom of a waterfall and looking up. At the beginning, it feels refreshing and invigorating but as a continuous process over an extended period of time, the water become heavy and relentless and blocks out everything else.