Jeff Bezos explains why he always speaks last in meetings. It's great advice for everyone.
It's all about listening.
Amazon and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos recently sat with podcaster Lex Fridman for a rare, long-form interview. Over 2-plus hours, he discussed his thinking process, space exploration, Day 1 mentality, Amazon principles, morning routines and more.
During the conversation, Bezos shared some insights into his work philosophy and one big takeaway was his belief in always speaking last in meetings. The advice is helpful for anyone, whether they want to be a better leader or more persuasive in social situations.
The strategy makes a lot of sense for Bezos. As one of the most influential and successful business leaders in American history, it has to be hard to get an honest opinion from your team when you have such an incredible record of success.
When Bezos speaks first in a meeting, it can significantly affect the feedback he gets from his team.
“In every meeting I attend, I always speak last,” Bezos told Fridman. “I know, from experience, if I speak first, even very strong-willed, highly intelligent, high-judgment participants in that meeting will wonder, ‘If Jeff thinks that? I came into this meeting thinking one thing, but maybe I'm not right.’”
“If you're the most senior person in the room, go last,” Bezos continued. “Let everyone else go first. Ideally, have the most junior person go first—try to go in order of seniority—so that you can hear everyone's opinion in an unfiltered way. Someone you really respect says something? It makes you change your mind a little.”
Executive leadership coach Hortense Le Gentil, author of The Unlocked Leader, agrees with Bezo’s approach to leadership and believes that it allows people to become better listeners, which can help them in all facets of their lives.
“Leaders who keep practicing becoming better listeners develop deeper and stronger connections with their teams, which in turn contributes to boosting their engagement and performance,” Le Gentil writes for Fast Company.
Personal Grown Blogger Brian Walsh says that when we speak last, we give greater accountability to the people we communicate with, whether it’s family, a sports team, a community organization, or coworkers.
“Let’s say you have an idea that you think is best and that you want to be implemented,” Walsh writes at An Insight Into Life. “By speaking first, it may result in people feeling like they are being told what to do, removing them from the creation process. However, you wait until everyone else has spoken and find that someone else also has the same idea. Now by allowing them to suggest it and by agreeing with them, they feel like it is their own.”
“This can also be applied to our personal lives,” Walsh continues. “If you are arguing with someone, they often don’t hear what you are suggesting because their emotions have taken over, and you trying to correct them just adds fuel to the fire. Allow them to talk and keep your suggestions to yourself.”
Although Bezos framed his advice around choosing when to speak, the more important lesson may be deciding when to listen. Being a great listener is valuable because it’s a hard skill to develop. It’s not just about hearing what someone’s saying but understanding, empathizing and withholding judgment at the same time.
Being a good listener is the key to connecting with others, but it’s also a vital tool in personal growth. You can’t learn if you can’t listen.
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