“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” — Simon Sinek
My previous two posts in this Soft Skills series have been about verbal and non-verbal communications: its nature of being a “two way street,” the need for both a sender and a receiver in order for the communication to be anything other than mere noise. Some have suggested that listening is more important than talking for effective communication. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. The symbolism is obvious.
Listening is more than just hearing the words someone speaks. It is a total way of receiving verbal and nonverbal messages, processing them, and communicating that understanding back to the speaker. Many of us listen in order to respond – we are formulating our next message while the other is still talking. We should instead listen to understand – to fully take in, process, and comprehend the message that is being sent. We communicate from our own perspective, the reality in which we live, our understanding of our own world. So ask questions to clarify the speaker’s meaning. Reframe what they have said in your own words, to see if you get agreement on their intended message. By doing this you learn to seek their perspective and reality, rather than defaulting to your own.
“Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”— Carl Rogers
We need to be aware of our own emotional stance. If you are having trouble understanding the message, or having trouble getting your message across, look for the common perspective. It may be difficult but we need to keep our composure. Try to understand that negative comments are not necessarily personal, but more likely born out of frustration with the situation.
Effective communication then is a two way street, involving both a sender and receiver. It is about the sender making their intention clear, and the receiver being present and in the moment to actively listen. Intent is important – are we being clear about it? Understanding the difference between words and meaning is a vital capability for effective communications and relationships. For example, as John Ruskin stated: “The essence of lying is in deception, not in words.” (John Ruskin, 1819-1900, English art critic and social commentator). I learned long ago that when starting a difficult conversation with someone, it was critical to state my intent, and more importantly what it was not. I have found that this allows the other person to listen to what I am saying, and to understand the message behind the words.
“Without credible communication, and a lot of it, the hearts and minds of others are never captured.” — John P. Kotter
Finally, you can’t make another person actively listen to you, but you can increase the odds in your favour that they will, by understanding the other person’s communications style. Does she only need quick, basic information with few details, or does she need a lot of detail, maybe even to make a list? Does he appreciate it when you infuse your message with emotion,, or does he not want any emotional attachment to the message at all? By recognizing these four basic things you can change how you communicate with others, giving them what they need to understand and process what you are saying or asking.
This is the sixth in a series of posts exploring Soft Skills and why they are so important to your success in any endeavour.
John Whitehead, MA, CEC, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.