Lots of people spend lots of money on business school — and it’s often a worthy investment. You can learn new skills, broaden your network, and postpone reality for two years.

But I’ve always thought about offering a far cheaper business credential — enduring advice for managers of any kind that I call The Four-Word MBA.

Here it is:

Talk less. Listen more.

Give it a try. It’ll make you a better leader. And if you forget, take our refresher course.

34 Responses to “The Four-Word MBA”

  1. Colin Tate says:

    Should that not be ‘talk less, understand more’ ? Listening can go in one ear and out of the other.

  2. Avatar photo Dan Pink says:

    @colin — Fair point. But we have to start somewhere! Besides, I know way too many people who think the opposite of talking is . . . waiting. If we can convince a few of them actually to listen, I’m ready to declare victor.

  3. Drew Kugler says:

    Who’s “we” Dan? Why should “them” listen? This is one of the seemingly classic communication issues that “managers of any kind” nod their heads in acknowledgement of, yet rarely move to sustained change. Solution? Harder than talking less. It’s hiding deep down in talking better.

  4. Stephen says:

    I believe the true underlying issue is humbleness. If more “manager” or people in positions of leadership were less prideful and began listening more, there would be more understanding taking place.

  5. Juliosus says:

    I like the idea of both “talking better” and “understand more,” but neither necessarily directs toward receiving input. I’d vote to keep it how it is, but let these new additions be implied:

    Talk less (but have quality things to say when you do), and listen more (so you can develop a more complete understanding).

  6. Mike Shea says:

    Great note!

    And listening is an art form.

    Listening is not hearing. Listening is active. It is an exercise in understanding the other point of view, without ego or agenda soiling the effort.

    Listening also implies that action will be taken on what is understood. No action? Then you only are hearing, and everyone knows that even a silly cat can hear…

  7. Ben Knight says:

    I think the problem is everyone is talking more and listening less, and I don’t see it changing. These are the ones who are “promoted”, “succeed”, etc… It reminds me of the post: https://www.danpink.com/archives/2009/05/mark-twain-motivational-posters

  8. Chris Vezeau says:

    Always great advice. Something everyone should take to heart.

    Seek first to understand goes hand-in-hand with this.

    Can you imagine a world where politicians and pundits (on both sides of the fence) adhered to this advice? Think how different our society might be.

  9. Hans Horsten says:

    Reminds me of a popular ‘magnetic’ quote in my classroom [where I teach Business Economics] of Tao Te-Ching / Chinese Philosophy from 600-200 BC / which is: THE MORE YOU KNOW THE LESS YOU UNDERSTAND


    It sounds cynical but ‘listening’ and ‘understanding’ are are not equal !

  10. Laura says:

    Yes, yess, yesss! That is so important. My first guess to the four words: Under promise, over deliver. In my experience, those that offer/promise to deliver anything and fall short do not come out ahead. Best to create a win/win from the get go. And ironically, that takes talking less and listening more.

  11. Joe Schmitter says:

    How about the one solution that provides both the opportunity to listen more and understand more? Try asking some precise questions. Intriguing option, wouldn’t you agree?

  12. “Listen until it hurts.” My director at my first sales job used to share these types of quotes with me all of the time. “Never miss an opportunity to ‘shut up.” And my favorite which he used to say was a quote of Mark Twain’s (and if it wasn’t it should be by his estimation) “Drawing on my fine command of the language…I said nothing.”

    By the way, I love the refresher course.

  13. Stéphane says:

    Another one : Selling is shutting up and listening !

  14. Ben Knight says:

    PS. It’s Eddie Harris’ Birthday today, composer of “Listen Here” http://vimeo.com/4214688 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Harris

  15. I love this. It is the most powerful book, statement, written yet for the business world. Words we all know and momentum we can all champion. Perfect. Great!
    Ranks up there with Michael Pollan’s book – Food Rules. His answer to the obesity crisis….”Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”

  16. Mark Tyler says:

    “Talk less, listen more” requires a manager who believes her employees can offer valuable insight and ideas. A manager who does not think she already has every answer. A manager who is not afraid to appear wanting. A manager who is more involved than an annual charade evaluation. In my experience, managers like that are a very rare, and extremely valuable commodity. I’ve too often had managers who take my ideas, call them their own, and march up the ladder.

  17. Two ears. One mouth. There’s a reason for that ratio.

  18. Sometimes all you have to do is listen (actively). I can’t tell you how often people would tell me thanks for listening when I was a school principal. It is also important for men to fight the urge to be Mr. Fixit when someone tells them about a problem in their life. See my summary of “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen at DrDougGreen.Com if you want to know more about how women and men communicate.
    Douglas W. Green, EdD

  19. Conor Neill says:

    He who asks the questions controls the conversation 😉 Are you in control? or being controlled?

  20. Well, sounds great in theory, but ask my buddies from my MBA Cross Media how hard it was for me to talk less, and they will start to laugh for sure. It took me at least two years to master this art, and for example introduce myself in less than a sentence. And I can still talk for hours, which is exactly why it was such a good idea for me to sidetrack myself with an MBA in the first place. Did I learn anything else? I was always a good listener, so no improvement there. But hey, you know what? I actually found out that I should believe in myself and my ideas a little more, and listen a little less to all the reasons why we shouldn’t try out something new and unproven. Was that worth my time and money? In a few years I hope you will all know why I say “yes”. But I first have to try out something new and unproven, and who knows when that will turn out to be successful. But not trying is death to me, so wish me lots of life!

  21. Casey says:


    (that is me trying to talk less and listen more)

  22. Robin JG says:


    It must be wrong – no mention of WACC.

    I’d almost buy it if it was “Listen more to customers”.

    I think the BSchools will sleep easy tonight though.

  23. Jim Klaas says:

    How about:
    Think, connect, experiment, persevere.

  24. Bruce Berger says:

    I would advise people to get a job with a troubled company that has taken on new leadership in leu of an MBA. It may sound crazy but you will learn very quickly what it takes to run a business. There are no second chances with a turnaround. Each department has to work as a team and ego must be sent out the door. If a person has some courage its possible to rise to the top through a turnaround because a good leader is looking for people that want to asme leadership.

  25. David Etherton says:

    It is funny (albeit a little sad) how 24 comments prove out your point. From both sides. DP, keep doing what you do.

  26. Cheryl Davis says:

    Something I learned unwillingly after a long period in the NY corporate world is that the nature of corporate practice precludes the vast majority of managers from listening to anything that differs from the paradigm with which they’ve approached an issue. That’s because relaying the new information/suggestion to their supervisor/manager implies that they were WRONG. Visions of reduced bonus or even CLMs (career limiting moves). The status quo is almost always the safest way to go, so why listen to anyone else’s perceptions. Sorry for all the words. It is a worthwhile endeavor. Just expressing years of frustration tilting at windmills. But I am trying to implement this excellent practice into my social interactions as often as I can remember.

  27. Suresh Gaur says:

    I agree with “Talk Less Listen More”…..and I do practice this philosophy….. by doing so one understand others….Thanks

  28. Ben Wulfsohn says:

    In my field of business: homeopathic healing, we have been “talking less and listening more” especially the last 10 years or so. Now this is being extended to “doing less, being more” as well. Action been deferred in the words of Lao Tzu: “Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles, and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”

    As an aside I like your operating system advice for motivating business people – heard it BBC world service, namely : Autonomy, Mastery and purpose. Dr Jan Scholten (a leading world homeopath talks about the Lanthanides (rare earth metals) representing a new set of remedies for our times. Patients who need them have an intense need for autonomy in their lives http://www.interhomeopathy.org/secret_lanthanides.

  29. Jeremy Pink says:

    Amen, Brother.

  30. Dan…Terrific post. I have long recognized that this can be a problem for me (and probably gotten feedback too). These days, whenever I meet with someone, write the word Listen! at the top of the first 10 pages of the legal pad I’m going to use for notetaking and then script out some open-ended questions on a separate sheet of paper. Both serve as a good reminder and lead to more productive meetings (this is particularly helpful in an increasingly bridge-line-oriented conference-call world.

    Parenthetically, I put the words Slow Down at the top of my presentation notes, but that’s the subject of a different post.

    I did bite and clicked on the refresher course, even though I was pretty sure what was coming next. Gave me a nice laugh to start the day.


  31. TSB says:

    Great advice that was delivered early in my youth from a wise and sage Kindergarten teacher. You have two ears and only one mouth…listen twice as much as you speak.

  32. Brahm Memone says:

    Listening is more than just hearing. Listening is a part of understanding and is a quotient of love.
    Thank you for sharing, Dan.

  33. Dipak says:

    Dan,very well said.

  34. My recommendation: Many people start off listening for the first few minutes and then start to categorize a thought as right or wrong or put it into some kind of category and tell themselve in their mind, “Oh that’s about ______, and I don’t agree with that.”

    Thus they R-E-J-E-C-T the thought before they even will hear it.

    This habit is the practice toward non-learning and it doesn’t help us be more effective managers and leaders.