Do Not Interrupt!

Don’t assume board members know how to listen.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Almost all [board members] look promising
before they enter the boardroom,
but not all perform equally well once inside.[1]

Ram Charan, Dennis Carey, and Michael Useem


We’re going to be blunt here, and you can thank us later!

Of the four social styles gathered around your boardroom table (Drivers, Analyticals, Amiables, and Expressives), at least two of the styles prefer to talk more than listen. (And you know who you are . . . maybe!)

Board members who talk too much are often unaware of their inability to slow down and listen. According to the social style experts,[2] there’s a great divide between the preferred pace of most people: how they use their time.

One group favors slowing down:

•   Analyticals tend to be slow, deliberate, and disciplined.

•   Amiables tend to be slow and calm but often undisciplined.

The other group keeps the agenda moving:

•   Drivers tilt toward being swift and efficient but impatient.

•   Expressives tend to be rapid and quick but undisciplined.

All four styles (that’s how God created us) will likely show up in your boardroom. It takes great skill and insight—a deep understanding of the pluses and minuses of the four social styles—to consistently create a boardroom culture that is respectful and God-honoring.

Leaders on the board can set the tone for good listening. Holly Duncan, CEO of Parkridge, a nonprofit pregnancy medical clinic, observes, “The best leaders are the best listeners. They listen closely and they also notice what is not being said. Listening demonstrates care, respect, and a teachable spirit—all qualities of an effective leader and an effective board member.”[3]

Good news—there’s help! Ruth Haley Barton offers 10 listening guidelines in her important book Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.[4] Leverage those guidelines, and in just a few minutes, you can facilitate an insightful exercise at the beginning of your next board meeting.

Barton writes, “Don’t take it for granted that people know how to listen. We live in a culture where people are much more skilled at trying to get their point across and arguing their position than they are at engaging in mutually influencing relationships.”

Barton concludes this powerful page on listening guidelines with a personal reflection challenge:

Invite God to search you and reveal your normal patterns of speaking and listening. Ask him to reveal one aspect of this kind of listening that you could practice in order to be a more helpful listener in leadership discernment.


10 Guidelines for Entering Into and Maintaining a Listening Posture

  • Check the ONE guideline that is most challenging for you:
  1. Take full advantage of the opportunity provided to become settled in God’s presence.

  2. Listen to others with your entire self (senses, feelings, intuition, imagination, and rational faculties).

  3. Do not interrupt.

  4. Pause between speakers to absorb what has been said.

  5. Do not formulate what you want to say while someone else is speaking.

  6. Speak for yourself, expressing your own thoughts and feelings, referring to your own experiences. Avoid being hypothetical. Steer away from making broad generalizations.

  7. Do not challenge what others say. Rather, ask good questions that enable you to wonder about things together.

  8. Listen to the group as a whole—to those who have spoken aloud as well as to those who haven’t. If you notice that someone hasn’t spoken, feel free to ask what he or she is thinking. Some people aren’t as comfortable as others at asserting themselves in conversation, but when space is created for them to speak, they have much to offer because they have been listening and observing quietly.

  9. Leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time before speaking a second time yourself.

  10. Hold your desires and opinions—even your convictions—lightly. Be willing to be influenced by others whom you respect.

Taken from Pursuing God’s Will Together by Ruth Haley Barton.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Ruth Haley Barton. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press,
P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.



Invest time in helping board members improve
their listening skills and thereby improve the culture
in your boardroom.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Read: Around the boardroom, ask each board member to read one listening guideline (in order, from one to ten). Then in groups of two, ask each person to identify the guideline that is most challenging for them.
  2. Review: Invite one board member in advance of the board meeting to study and review Chapter 11 in Pursuing God’s Will Together by Ruth Haley Barton. Then pray in groups of two.
  3. Lead: Inspire your board chair to lead graciously. Create a boardroom culture that expects the board chair to address inappropriate boardroom conduct, including people who talk too much.



Lord, forgive me for talking when I should be listening—
especially to You. Amen.



[1] Ram Charan, Dennis Carey, and Michael Useem, Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014), 61.

[2] Visit and read other resources on social styles including the faith-based book, How to Deal with Annoying People: What to Do When You Can’t Avoid Them, by Bob Phillips and Kimberly Alyn, and “The People Bucket” chapter in Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit, by John Pearson.

[3] Holly Duncan, “Do Not Interrupt,” Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (blog), March 21, 2018, lesson-18-do-not-interrupt.html.

[4] Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 206–207. Barton adapted these 10 listening guidelines from the book, Grounded in God, by Suzanne G. Farnham, Stephanie A. Hull, and R. Taylor McLean.

From Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018,


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.