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First Listen, Then Speak Up

10/28/2016 | 20 Comments

First Listen, Then Speak UP


I recently read an editorial by one of my mentors. She wrote something that really resonated with me: “Leaders should argue like they are right and listen like they could be wrong.” (Sherman, 2016) I happen to agree with her. If I wrote that piece, the only thing that I would have changed is the sequence. I would write it like this: “Leaders should listen like they could be wrong and argue like they are right.”


Many of you have heard me talk about the importance of professional/personal branding. A key component of a positive brand is the ability to actively listen. I say this because I believe that active listening will allow you to respond as opposed to react. Many of you would agree that when you are on the receiving end, a response feels much better compared to a reaction. Not to mention the fact that when you listen, you allow those in front of you to feel important and, therefore, you increase their level of engagement.


Once you have offered the proper type of listening and are clear about the content, it becomes equally important to speak up. Speaking up is hard sometimes. It becomes increasingly difficult if you feel that you are about to share something “unpopular,” for example. I would argue that speaking up in those circumstances becomes even more important. In health care, many of our decisions will impact lives. If you feel strongly about something, you should allow yourself to speak up. The life of a member of our community might be at risk if you choose not to. The perfect example of this would be to allow for a procedure to commence in a surgical suite without conducting a proper “time out”. If you choose not to speak up in this setting, it can have a negative impact. The last thing you want to do is spend the rest of your life asking yourself, “Why didn’t I speak up? What would have happened if I had spoken up?”


In summary, no matter what you do, always remember to listen like you could be wrong, and argue like you are right.

Source: Sylvain "Syl" Trepanier, DNP, RN, CENP, past vice president & system chief nursing officer
Content Updated: 10/28/2016 4:17:07 PM
20 comments about this post
Cindy 10/28/2016 5:34:35 PM

Awesome!Love your sequence change. I am going to keep this in mind and use it daily.Thank you.

Lori 10/28/2016 6:23:24 PM

This is great advice to Listen first! Thank you

Beth 10/28/2016 7:27:42 PM

Thanks for sharing. Working with others and living with family and friends, listening is a most important trait. I also agree with allowing yourself to respond, not react. Each day I work to do this better for colleagues and family. :)

Lisa Weaver 10/28/2016 8:38:35 PM

Great blog. Words of great wisdom for all. Thank you for sharing.

Stacey Lawson 10/29/2016 6:27:09 AM

Yes! We learn more when we listen; when we are talking, we only share what we know. The learning comes in the listening. Love the listen as though you are wrong. Wisdom!

Jason Fisher 10/29/2016 6:28:25 AM

This is much like Stephen Covey, who writes, "seek first to understand, then be understood"; It seems equally important to fully, deeply listen with empathy as it is to respond confidently. Both empathetic listening and speaking confidently, concisely and clearly are things that can be developed and practiced. Thank you Jason for reminding us about Stephen Covey. I concur that the message is aligned in deed. Dr. Syl

Katie 10/29/2016 7:47:35 AM

Very wise words, both in the healthcare setting and in our personal lives, especially in our current political environment!

Marquita Turner 10/29/2016 8:01:13 AM

Great food for thought! I like your example about the timeout. It made me think about the many evidence based practices that we should be following that could be hardwired if peers "spoke up"; to hold the accountability. Thank you for sharing! Thank you Marquita and I appreciate how you noticed that this applies to so may things. Dr. Syl

Carol Griffith 10/30/2016 9:24:51 PM

I could not agree with your words more today than any other day. It is important for our leaders to listen first and then act. I also agree that leaders need to react less and act more after listening and understanding. And Speaking Up is likely the most important thing to do. I believe in speaking up. I hope my leaders are willing to listen. I believe our nurses are facing the greatest sense of burnout that we have seen in the last 20 years. Where have all of our nurses gone? Why are they leaving? I would like the unit managers to look at the average "age" of the nurses they are working with. I can tell you what I am seeing. No longer is it a good mix of highly experienced, fairly experienced, and a few scattered new nurses, - it is completely turned upside down with nurses who have less than 5 years of experience leading the way in most units. The older nurses are either quitting, retiring, or moving to the KHN because they are paying better. There is no replacement for nurses with extant knowledge!!!! You can not book teach a nurse everything s/he needs to know even in a residency program. Every new nurse is costing the system (?$90K in the first year to train) and we let an experienced one walk out the door because they are overlooked, overworked, understaffed, and underpaid! Not to mention feel under appreciated by their administration. It is time that our leaders show their experienced staff how important they are. It is time our leaders listen, act, and understand. Dear Carol. First let me say thank you for taking the time to read the blog and for offering your perspective on this topic. In deed, I believe in the power of listening to ensure we offer a response as opposed to a reaction. I would encourage you to have a conversation with your local leadership so you can be offered an opportunity to be part of the solution to the concerns you described above. To that end, I asked someone to reach out to you and I can of course make myself available to you as you see fit. Have a great day! Dr. Syl

Amy Dorsey 10/31/2016 6:31:32 AM

It's also worth mentioning that sometimes it is okay to ask for time to think about your response before actually responding. Certainly there are times when one must speak up immediately, but there are many times when it may be just as appropriate to ask for time to think things through. Speed does not necessarily mean a quality response. I believe strong leaders are confident knowing that their input is valuable even if it's not always quick. Thank you Amy for your reply and I agree with your addition. Timing is everything and sometimes time is your friend. Dr. Syl

Becky Chenault 10/31/2016 7:26:51 AM

Great reminder for us all. And especially important as we work toward increasing diversity and inclusion. Thank you Syl. Your blogs are always thought provoking.

Sharon 10/31/2016 8:13:51 AM

Thank you for sharing this blog. How applicable it is for the changes that are occuring. Many times is easier to talk than it is to listen. Great advice to incorporate in our working and daily lives. Thank you!

Jeanne Ponziani 10/31/2016 10:40:56 AM

Very solid advice--thanks for sharing!

Donna Banks 10/31/2016 2:49:16 PM

Thank you for sharing such wise words from your mentor. I'm having a moment of self reflection as a result of reading your post. Dear Donna, thank you for replying back to the blog. I appreciate your sharing the impact that it offered you today. Dr. Syl

Tina Gregory 11/1/2016 12:10:13 PM

This is really great advice to live by. Keeping your mind truly open while actively listening is so important for personal and professional growth as a caregiver and leader. Thanks for sharing.

Pat O'Malley 11/1/2016 5:24:15 PM

Wise advice here! Your remarks remind me of a quote by Winston Churchill "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Thank you!

Ashley Dawes 11/1/2016 7:52:16 PM

Excellent advice that can be applied to any aspect of life. Thank you so much for sharing!

Jennifer Spalding 11/2/2016 5:47:59 AM

Great advice. I have learned to listen and keep an open mind. One of my high school teacher encouraged me to "Speak up or you will never be heard, but think before you speak".

Jane Zimmerman 11/2/2016 8:56:53 AM

One of my favorite quotes is: "Questions are our eyes to seeing". Not sure of the author but a very profound statement to remind us of the imporantance and value placed on listening. Thank you Dr. Syl!

Teri Gulker 12/5/2016 4:43:01 PM

YES, YES, YES! So many times I have said to myself,"I should have said something"! With age and experience I have learned this lesson. Thank you for bringing this topic out for discussion and implementation!

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