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Scott Galloway@profgalloway

Published on October 20, 2023

Listening is underrated. Unlike vision, hearing works in the dark and around corners. We hear 20 to 100 times faster than we see, and what we hear stays in our heads longer, often evoking strong emotions — just listen to your favorite band from college. However, for many of us, we don’t begin to harness this superpower until the age we begin to lose it. Hearing, like youth, is wasted on the young. We all hear things; there’s no corner of the globe that’s free from the vibrations that manifest in sound. So we must decide what to listen to. But many of us aren’t listening, and that dampens our abilities and undermines our relationships.

“Leadership = Listenership”

That caption is cheesy and off-brand, but it’s late here. As a younger founder/CEO, I believed leadership was getting a quick take on a situation, pondering it for several seconds, and then expectorating a confident opinion. Like a fraternity brother who owns his vomiting, with the bravado of a middleweight holding up the belt awarded for giving another boxer early-onset Parkinson’s. Leadership, for me, was rallying troops into battle. Except I hadn’t thought through the strategy and wasn’t even sure who or where the enemy was.

All that mattered was inspiring action aligned with my (emphasis on “my”) view. Lately I’ve been seeing these TikTok videos (I think the CCP is boosting them to show how stupid we are) where an American family lights a pyrotechnic that becomes an out-of-control hose, spraying fire. As a young leader, I was the firework, directionless and loud, demanding everyone’s attention.

Levi Strauss & Co.

I was 26 when I started my first company, a strategy firm called Prophet. Our first big client was Levi Strauss & Co. I attended several board meetings, and what struck me, other than how opulent big company board meetings are, was the CEO and chairman mainly asked questions and listened. They weren’t there to advocate or cajole … just to listen.

Around that time, I joined the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, where I was assigned a mentor. Mine was Bob Swanson, the founder and CEO of Genentech. He shadowed me for a day, not saying a word, just observing. At the end of the day, I prepared for a mix of professional therapy and a validation of my general awesomeness. He said, “You need to listen more,” and nothing else.


Good leaders are known for producing great results. And greatness is in the agency of others. A leader’s opportunity to take the field with the all-star team is a function of retention — the loyalty of the most talented players, who have more opportunities to go somewhere else. Their loyalty is a function of the leader’s appreciation, economic and psychic. Great leaders listen, then tangibly demonstrate they understand someone’s unique needs. Some people want to manage others, some would like to work abroad, have more balance, or see their name in lights (be quoted in industry media), etc.

In Peter Drucker’s classic article on executive leadership, he lists eight critical practices, and the first two are questions to ask. His concluding advice: Listen first, speak last. Madeleine Albright put it this way: “You can lead, but you must listen.” A host of research studies back them up. Good listeners make better leaders.

Where Listening Goes to Die

Add this to the list of ways social media is ruining society: It’s skewing our perception of the relative value of listening vs. speaking. Social media is a contact sport in which “takes” are the game ball. It’s taught us (incorrectly) that all our opinions matter. Worse, that everyone needs to hear and comment on them. (Pro tip: Words are wind.) Do I really need to express my outrage, and do you really need to hear it?

Most humans suffer from a lack of impulse control, ignorance, and ignorance of our (wait for it) ignorance — and social media amplifies these flaws. Going public on an important/sensitive topic you have no domain expertise in is a transfer of value, a trade of reputation and unnecessary risk for ear-cleaner adverts. Justin Bieber’s Instagram post “Praying for Israel” lost some of its force when people noticed the background image of a destroyed city was a photograph of Gaza. Social media has not only elevated virtue signaling to pseudo-importance, it has weaponized it. People are losing their jobs because they feel compelled to make “statements.”

The online obsession with “statements” in the aftermath of terrible events is the daily experience of social writ large. Twitter’s basic structure is about speaking, not listening — the platform’s formal innovation was that it made replies first-class citizens, equal to posts. Social gave everyone a voice, but it blocked our ear canals. The more complex or painful or shocking an event, the more it behooves us to “listen first, speak last.” But we don’t. There’s likes to be had, and if you’re a semifamous DJ, your fans need to know what you think about Gaza.

Posting your view on an issue not only reveals your position, but also cements it. You can inadvertently back yourself into a corner. I see this all the time — someone takes a position without thinking, just as part of the flow of the conversation; it’s challenged; they defend it; and within minutes, that passing opinion becomes a central tenet of their being. This is part of our larger bias toward consistency, our need to see our words and actions as coherent. Speaking hinders subsequent listening. Social media makes this worse, encouraging us to record our every passing thought, and then binding us to it, lest the Guardians of Gotcha come for us with “receipts.”

Speaking on a hair trigger also makes us more prone to misinformation. If you listen for support of your views rather than illumination or evolution, you’re less discerning of sources and claims. Just as you can’t breathe and eat at the same time, you can’t listen when you’re speaking.

To be clear, everyone has the right to speak. But before you decide to share your views on a charged topic with the 5 billion people on social media, ask yourself three questions: Do I have something to offer? Do I have a personal or professional connection? Is it worth the risk? If the answer to any of these is no, perhaps take a beat before speaking.

First Wives Club and Parent Hack

I was married to a wonderful woman — smart, nice, fun to be around … generally impressive. She was also in touch with her feelings, which I was not. She would regularly express something she was upset about. My response was to manage and deflect. It didn’t matter what she felt or even how I felt, her comments were incoming missiles, to be shot down or diverted. This resulted in a relationship that was harmonious but increasingly distant. She wasn’t in a relationship with me, but someone managing the relationship. The truth built up, and up, and then burst.

Listening alone makes feedback more effective and engenders loyalty. If I want to give my sons advice, what to tell them is the easy part — they’re such dopes. There are only so many problems, and young people have more in common than they realize. It’s getting them to listen that’s the trick. The parent hack is to ask questions before we start preaching. As my dad says, communication is with the listener, and if you don’t soften up their defenses with active listening, you’ll never get to the beach.

(Super) Power

Listening is a gift. When people are in pain, in doubt, or struggling in any way, they may legitimately need to express themselves. For every celebrity village idiot who feels the need to express their ill-formed opinions on social media, thousands of people with an actual stake in events use platforms as an outlet for grief and rage. (But then the platforms feast off this pain and convert it into fodder for someone’s else’s take. And the wheel spins.)

The urge to express oneself when facing a dilemma or in pain is real. I communicate for a living, so I have to resist the need to take the floor and begin speaking in every situation. Something that helps is that, as I age, I’m becoming more introverted, which (oddly) has strengthened my relationships. Today I’m more prone to listen than to perform.

The delta between hearing and listening is attention, being present. This is difficult in the age of devices, but respect is what makes the other party feel heard. Sam Bankman-Fried would play video games on Zoom calls, and our idolatry of innovators mistook this bug for a feature, a sign of his genius. No, he’s not “thinking different.” He’s just an asshole.

Time & Care

When people seek advice, it often isn’t advice they want, but someone to listen. A good listener — someone who is present, who asks probing questions, who doesn’t use the person’s pain as a starting gun for them to speak — is a balm for anxiety. That’s why a good listener makes a useful partner in problem-solving. Some of the best mentorship moments I’ve experienced, on both sides, have been when the mentor doesn’t offer advice, but expresses affection by focusing solely on you and what you are saying.

The best advice you can give is to listen, which is to tell that person that they matter. The most effective treatment for anybody’s grief or anxiety is time and care. The former takes care of itself, and the latter can be achieved when we tell someone we love them, without words. By listening.

Life is so rich,

P.S. The Prof G Pod is now on YouTube — check out our channel here.

P.P.S. Yoshua Bengio is the godfather of artificial intelligence. I’ll be listening to his concerns about the ethics of AI (and, sure, contributing a few thoughts of my own) on Nov. 21. Sign up here — seats are limited.



  1. Brian Kennedy says:

    Right on time. Scott Galloway scheduled to go on Delmar in the wake of a mass shooting to talk about angry white man who can’t get dates and then kill people. Like death and taxes

  2. Mark says:

    Great advice, after all you have 2 ears and 1 mouth

  3. Joanna says:

    I suspect that in the near future, good manners will be determined by our ability to give our attention to others in social situations and how well we control our distraction by devices. I already value this enormously in my friends! It’s also an area in which the older the person, the better they do this.

  4. Howard Wiener says:

    Excellent advice and a great overview of the social mediaverse. As David Covey said, ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ David Brooks, columnist for the NY Times, among other things, just published a book an this very subject.

    You generously offered the example of your marriage, which is probably not much different than many others. I cannot even begin to imagine the number of unnecessary business disasters caused by listening failures. I think the idea of the HIPPO (the highest paid person’s opinion) ties back to this, as well.

    We all need to develop our listening muscles. I believe that, beside improving your uptake, it also eventually will alter the way that you perceive, interact and collaborate with others.

  5. Hakim says:

    So glad I came across your material Prof G during quarantine. Been an avid listener ever since. You’re like a free mentor to young men everywhere. You’re doing something right, thank you.

  6. Billy says:

    This newsletter anchored me in the present. I lost my Grandma over this past weekend; one of the most important “listeners” in my life. She impacted me (and so many others) profoundly through her consistent act of listening and being engaged. She made you feel like you were the most important thing in this world every time you spoke with her. Listening is a superpower, and my Grandma was and will always be my hero. Thank you Prof G for capturing in this newsletter the spirit of what my Grandma embodied and what I will strive to carry forward in her memory.

  7. Caroline Papadatos says:

    Words to live by…

  8. Kirill Vinogradov says:

    Thanks for highlighting the importance of listening. It’s a potent tool, especially in leadership.

    However, it’s crucial for us, especially coming from the Jewish community, to also act. Post 9/11, society stood against terror. Now, we must do the same and prevent religious conflicts.

    Leadership requires listening and a moral compass. Let’s combine both for a better future.

  9. Rick Burish says:

    I always enjoy Scott’s columns and always find them insightful. This one however, is a masterpiece and one of the finest pieces of thoughtful analysis I’ve ever read. Well done and thank you.

  10. Taiwo Sholagbade says:

    Every single part of this article rings true! The urge for people to make statements about things they know so little about, either in attempt to follow a trend or just seeking validation is so strong now with the advent of social media platforms. What is sad is people who listens hardly get rewarded as much as those who talk.

  11. Kathy Sullivan says:

    I never comment on articles but this one was so beautifully written, so articulate at every level ( personal, professional and societal) that I had to send my compliments. There is a monastic practice called centering prayer ( that is essentially meditation as we call it today but with a focus on stillness for the purpose of healing from God), and the watch word is “listen”. When the thoughts inevitably intrude, the practice is to listen to all ambient sounds. The bird song, traffic noises, wind or rain, become things to focus on. When I do it, it almost feels like the tide is changing and I take in the sounds around me, become more present and the bombardment of thoughts subside for a while. But it is like flexing a muscle – to practice stillness and listening. You might find it interesting. And thank you so much for that article!

  12. Patrick Butcher says:

    Brilliant, just brilliant. It felt like I was following my own life journey from **shole to listener. I guess the older we get the more we understand the damage we have caused by expressing or worse taking action on our opinions and the more we realise we just don’t know.

  13. matthew hilton says:

    yes, knee-jerk “statements” are becoming formalised. I was wondering about the relation to small talk “nice weather” etc – could we have an app for that so that for five minutes peoples phones would talk to peoples phones?

  14. Harry Shearer says:

    Hey, Scott, on “60 Min” two Sundays ago, Scott Pelley described Geoffrey Hinton as “the godfather of AI”. Can you duke it out with him and then get back to me? Thanks.

  15. Neil Pitman says:

    Hi, I have just received my usual Saturday morning sage advice from Prof Galloway. He is absolutely correct – listening is an undervalued skill that we should all practice. I was once given the advice in business “mouth closed, ears open”. Everyone should try it.

  16. C Cook says:

    Generally agree with post.
    And will mention that academia employs the worst listeners in the world. Talk to kids about how Unionized primary teachers or college Profs respond to pointed questions, or how Administrations refuse to consider the side of men in various disputes.
    Tenure is a form of ‘President for Life’ dictatorship, so why listen?

  17. Dr. Gregory Sancier says:

    I was a Police Officer for 32 years. As a collateral assignment I was a Hostage Negotiator for 28 of those years. I earned a Ph.D. In Clinical Psychology while still an officer and transferred to the Crisis Management Unit (CMU) the last 7 years of my career. My 27 year old, genius son, listens to you regularly and “told” me I needed to
    read your article. I’m “still” trying to become a better listener, do I have a lot to learn!

  18. S Kelly says:

    Yay! A Drucker quote – except you forgot to mention that cites the Welch “you’re either number 1 or number 2” nonsense.

  19. Tom Norton says:

    Awesome piece, so very true, but most people suck at it. Certainly not a skill we teach in colleges, and we reward, promote and admire big talkers. Look at most politicians, corporate leaders and “talking heads”, it’s ridiculous. There are exceptions but how do we foster better listening?

  20. James says:

    Everyone should read this, but like listening, reading is a skill that has been lost on this generation. You perfectly articulated the reason I stopped using social media (with the exception of LinkedIn, which I find to be benign likely because of its potential to impact employment). Thank you.

  21. Adriana Morantes says:

    Great! thanks for sharing! you opened up my eyes

  22. Rose Dhillon says:

    In today’s world, where everyone is eager to voice their opinions, your emphasis on the art of genuinely listening is both refreshing and vital.

    As I navigate my own journey, aspiring to be a better “foxer”, I’ve realized that true understanding comes not from just hearing, but deeply listening. Your article was a potent reminder that it’s not enough to just let words wash over us; we must actively engage, absorb, and most importantly, refrain from judgment.

    In many ways, to listen without prejudice is to see the world through another’s eyes. And in doing so, we not only enrich our own perspectives but also build bridges of empathy and connection.

    Thank you for the valuable insights. I’ll be carrying them with me.

  23. Moises P Ramirez says:

    Great Prof!! Thanks!!

  24. Adi Segal, Hapi CEO says:

    Scott: I love that you’ve been advocating so much for listening here and with Kara!
    I think you’d love our Listening platform:
    We provide active listening as service and form human connections 24/7×365.
    The world needs more of this and I hope you’ll continue spreading the gospel. Thank you!

  25. Steve Goldner says:

    I appreciate the GREAT importance of listening. The line I always used was “we have 2 ears and 1 mouth – we should listen twice as much as we speak.” But the proof points of great leaders listening adds much more justice in the words captured here. I am listening – thanks!

  26. Mark vH says:

    I. hear. you. Invaluable. Thank you, Prof.

  27. mark ouellette says:

    Very, very important post Scott, especially in the world we live in today. Nobody has ever learned anything by talking!

  28. Harrison says:

    An amazing post @profgalloway.

  29. Michael Endres says:

    Just a terrific post, Scott — you continue to be essential reading for me and everyone who I forward these emails to!

    I saw that you had a Prof G show with Simon Sinek. Hmm. I’ve always considered him to be sort of a business strategy charletan. Not even a junior varsity you. Fact: for years I un-Linked anyone who posted a Sinek piece on LinkedIn. I’m not doing that to you, but I’m concerned.

    • Maresca says:

      Awesome article. Reminds me of a Thoreau quote, “the greatest compliment ever paid to me was when someone asked my opinion AND actually LISTENED to my answer”

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