This is a cartoon I often show during training sessions. It demonstrates just how fragile and difficult effective communication can be. It also helps explain some of the issues we have in our society today. People don’t communicate. Instead, they talk about their position and give little to no thought to the position of the person they’re communicating with. If you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong, and visa-versa. Communication should be relatively easy; you say words, the other person hears and processes those words. They say words and you hear and process those words. Easy, right? Wrong!
Effective communication can be one of the more difficult things to do and do well. The thoughts provoked by seeing this cartoon also dovetail nicely with my Stop, Collaborate and Listen column from last month. These thoughts have been heavy on my mind lately so I’m going to devote the next three columns to digging into that column and will start with "Listen."
A 2015 study showed that while 76% of accredited undergraduate business schools list “presenting” as a learning goal, only 11% identified “listening.” Listening has just not gained the kind of popularity that speaking or presenting enjoys and that is just plain wrong. People have an innate desire to be understood and when you let somebody know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that you want to understand them – with your eyes, facial expressions, questions, body placement, and acknowledgments, it draws them to you. Here are some good tips to be a more effective listener:
Body Language: Watch your body language and pay attention to what the other person is telling you with theirs. Eye contact and posture are important to be mindful of. Eye contact indicates you are friendly, engaged, confident, and is important in face-to-face communications. Check your posture and make sure it’s open – avoid crossed arms or crossed legs, which can make you look "closed" or defensive. Leaning slightly forward or sideways whilst sitting can show that you’re listening – as can a slight tilt of your head or resting your head on your hand. Pay attention to what the other person is saying with their body language - are they smiling, for example, or are their arms crossed defensively, or are they rubbing their eyes as if they're tired or upset.
Don’t Interrupt: Interrupting somebody while they are talking to you tells them you think you are more important than them and minimizes what they have to say. There are many articles on effective listening that suggest the use of "clarifying questions" (see examples below) to demonstrate you are listening as well as make sure you do understand what the other person has said. This can be a good tool but beware if using them that the other person has completed their thought before asking one, or you run the risk of interrupting them.
Be Present: Try to focus on listening and watch your emotions. Reacting emotionally to what’s being said can hamper your ability to listen what is said next. Although it’s very difficult to do, don’t start planning what to say next. You can’t listen and prepare your response at the same time.
Verbal Mirroring: During his time as an FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss, author of "Never Split the Difference" describes a technique designed to get others to expand on their communication with you – they called it the “Jedi Mind Trick”. Repeat the last two or three words that somebody says back to them ending on a higher inflection that sort of trails off. It comes across as a question, and they will expand further on their point. I use this technique a lot and it works very well.
Listening is so important in your ability to effectively communicate with your customers, co-workers, family, friends, and anybody you may come across. It’s also something we all can improve upon. Spend the next month focusing on listening to, and understanding those you communicate with better and see how it affects you.