The One Trick That Can Better Relationships

03/19/2015 12:06 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

Years ago I had a boss who wouldn't shut up. Actually, he wouldn't listen, which is frankly why I remember him only talking.

Nobody wanted to work for him. I was a temporary worker filling in for an employee who recently left. The guy was super smart but also totally overbearing.

You know the type.

He wouldn't listen because he knew all the answers, or at least he thought he did, and as a result he burned through his best people.

The same holds true in our personal relationships. When we fail to listen, we fracture the bonds that connect us. In essence, we are saying, "You're not important enough for me to stop what I'm doing to hear what you have to say."

Listening, on the other hand, strengthens relationships. It says, "I value you and what you have to say. I want to understand what you are experiencing because you are important to me."

Listening builds trust and intimacy. Sharing our thoughts and feelings is the foundation of vulnerability, which leads to healthy, long-lasting relationships. And it begins with you, making it a priority to understand what the other person is thinking, feeling, and experiencing.

It's that simple. And it's also that difficult.

If you are inclined to talk too much, and listen too little, here's what I suggest you do.

Buy two rolls of duct tape. That's right. Duct tape. The brand doesn't matter. Put one roll on your bathroom counter top and the other on your desk at work. Here's the roll I keep at home.


Why the tape? Simple. It serves as a reminder to stop talking.

I learned this technique from my dear friend and relationship expert, Dr. Gary Oliver. It might seem a bit goofy, and it's definitely not a magic bullet, but it is highly effective, having been used by thousands of people nationwide, from CEOs to doctors and lawyers, teachers, husbands and wives.

I call it the Duct Tape Rule. Here's how it works:

Each morning, set an intention that you will listen more than you talk and definitely not interrupt. The only way to become a better listener is to cultivate the practice of listening and it begins with a commitment to do so.

This is where the countertop roll of tape comes in.

As you prepare for the day, remind yourself to be open and non-judgmental, quick to hear and slower to speak.

Then at the office, before walking into a meeting or having a conversation with a co-worker, client, or colleague, look at the roll on your desk. Remind yourself to stop, listen, and learn.

This requires that we get out of our head and into our heart -- to listen, to learn, to understand deeply, not simply as a means to form a counter argument. Try to understand what the other person is saying and experiencing before offering your perspective.

Doing these two things -- setting an intention each morning and reminding yourself throughout the day to listen more and speak less -- will help you reprogram your brain for better empathy and understanding. And when you do this, something remarkable happens. You start connecting with people on the most authentic and meaningful levels.

No more masks. No more need to win. You are left with a deep desire to know people truly and fully.

The net result is you'll become a better leader, husband or wife, parent, and friend.

This is the power of listening. It changes everything.

I'd love to hear how you've become a better listener, or challenges you still face in this area. Join the conversation by leaving a comment or email me directly.

Dr. Frank Niles is a social scientist, adventure athlete, executive coach, and speaker. Learn more about Frank at and Contact Frank at frank [at]