In this episode of the Leaders Factory Podcast we're talking about how to improve our communication skills. Communication may be the single most important skill for a leader to master. It is one of the primary causes of marital strife and divorce, team conflicts, leadership anxiety, and business failures. It is a skill to be mastered and regardless of how natural some may be at it, all of us have room to improve.
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Steps to Effective Communication:
- Clarify your ideas before attempting to communicate them. What specifically do you want the person or group to receive? Do you have a firm grasp of your primary idea, concept or message? People often spend more time beating around the bush than getting to the core of what needs to be communicated.
- With empathy, acknowledge the rights and feelings of others. Everyone has needs, wants, objectives and resources. When you relate to people in an acceptable way, you build credibility and trust. This helps create open, positive dialogue. Be yourself, but speak from the perspective and competency level of the receiver.
- Be honest. While using tact and good manners, make sure you are also honest. If you are not honest, integrity is lost. Communication is destroyed. Be compassionate in your truthfulness. Often the manner in which you say something is more important than what you say.
- Pay attention to body language. The experts say 75-95% of communication is nonverbal. People respect and respond to good eye contact, smiles, cordial voice tones, good posture, enthusiasm and well-placed humor. And even though you are told, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” people do judge you by your appearance.
- Practice active listening when someone else is talking. The greatest communicators are not necessarily the greatest speakers. More often than not, they are the greatest listeners. Active listening is an absolute necessity for good communication. If there is no receiver, then the sender is wasting his or her time.
Active Listening Barriers:
- You are concentrating on what you are going to say when the other person finishes talking rather than concentrating upon what the person is saying.
- You become an identifier. If the person is talking about his or her problem, you think about one of your own problems. If the subject is a project, you think about one of your own projects.
- Your main concern is how the speaker perceives you. You wonder what he or she thinks about the way you look and the way you present yourself.
- You are easily distracted. Your attention is quickly diverted by extraneous sounds, sights or activities.
- You filter what the other person is saying. Some people refer to this as “selective listening” - listening only to what you want to listen to and simply ignoring the rest of the message.
- You become defensive. Because you feel that what the speaker is saying reflects unfavorably upon you, you become defensive. Since you feel threatened, your listening is filtered with that perspective.
- You have no desire whatsoever to empathize with the speaker. You have already made up your mind and you are not going to allow facts or rational thinking to confuse the matter.
- You drift off into another world while the person is talking. Embarrassingly, this can lead to your sudden coming back to the present and saying, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
- You spend your time and thoughts assessing the messenger rather than listening to the message. You concentrate mainly on such things as appearance, demeanor, vocal quality, accent, etc.
- You assume you know more about the subject matter than the speaker does. Thus, you disregard any new information or perspective the speaker might offer.
- You spend your time agreeing with everything that is said, just to be nice or to avoid conflict. This doesn’t mean that you’re a good listener. It simply means you don’t want to rock the boat, regardless of what is said.
How to Listen:
- Establish the proper atmosphere and attitude. Make sure you are ready to receive and respond, whether it is in person or on the phone.
- Start listening with the first word that is said. How many times has this happened to you? You start a conversation by introducing yourself and your name and then half-way through the conversation the person asks, “Now, what did you say your name is?”
- Concentrate on the communicator and turn off your own concerns. Think about what is relevant to this conversation and to this individual. Discipline yourself to resist outside distractions.
- Focus on the big picture. Rather than trying to remember every single word, listen for the ideas. Cut to the very essence of the individual’s wants and needs.
- Respond to the issues and don’t be distracted by such things as a grating voice, poor grammar or ineffective expression.
- Remember that you can’t talk and listen at the same time. Don’t interrupt. Use vehicles such as “I see” and “Yes” to help carry the conversation along and to show you are listening.
- Ask questions to help draw out the conversation. If you feel you don’t understand something, get it cleared up before it results in an embarrassing and perhaps costly mistake later on.
- Summarize what you understand has been agreed upon. Highlight the key issues to make sure that you and the communicator are on the same page.
- As the listener, take responsibility for the success of the encounter.
Question: Of the 9 How to Listen points, how many have you highlighted that you need to work on? You don't need to be specific, but I am curious as to the average number of skills each of us need to focus on. I've highlighted 4 that I need to immediately focus on. Please answer and make any comments in the "Leave a Reply" box below.