At the root of all communication problems, there is essentially one thing that goes wrong that snowballs into every scenario you may have encountered. Whether you’re trying to communicate with a toddler or a CEO, someone of a different culture or someone of a different political viewpoint, effective communication hinges upon one thing.
And that is for parties to listen to and understand one another.
Throughout your life you may have heard people in authority say to you, “You don’t have to like me, but you have to respect me.” While I can see why a parent, teacher or boss might want to say this, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. As adults, there will be people we must interact with or who have authority over us that we don’t like. For any number of reasons they may irritate us or rub us the wrong way. Beyond merely showing respect to this person, we must foremost be sure we have taken every effort to listen to and understand them when they communicate with us.
It’s true. We won’t like everyone we meet in life, nor do we have to. But if you want to be an effective communicator who gets more of what you want, you must, must, must learn to listen – attentively, openly and willingly.
Not quite sold on this idea yet? Think back to the last communication problem you’ve dealt with. This may have been at home, or the office or with a friend. In hindsight, how did a lack of listening to one another play into the problem? I’m willing to guess a great deal. A lack of listening leads to a whole host of problems including misaligned expectations, unnecessary conflict, hurt feelings and frustration.
Not listening to one another the first time around usually leads to a lot more time spent trying to work through the miscommunication and repair the relationship. Simply put, investing in fully listening to one another in the very beginning of the conversation, and asking for clarity as often as needed, will save you from a lot of wasted time, headaches and strained relationships in the future.
I imagine I have your attention now. Great! But what does it really look like to be an effective listener? And how can you identify and address someone who may not be listening to you? Those are great questions that I intend to answer in the four points to follow.
- Treat listening like your job.
Listening is a critical skill for achieving success in every part of your life. Why then do we phone it in sometimes? I urge you to take listening seriously; treat it like you job. Challenge yourself to be able to repeat back, accurately, what the other person is saying to you. Take notes if you must. Recap what’s being said and put it into words. Which brings me to…
- Repeat back what you’re hearing.
In mediation, we learn to use the “I feel…” statements. This carries over into all forms of effective communication. When you’re having a critical discussion, instead of “I feel…” you should say “What I’m hearing you say is…” Then repeat back in your own words what you feel the other person is expressing. When they hear it repeated back they have the opportunity to confirm that is indeed accurate, or re-communicate a message that may have been lost in translation. Think of it like “proof-reading” each other’s thoughts before you hit “publish” and make decisions based upon this understanding.
- Ask to hear what they think you’re saying in their own words.
In return, you should ask the other people (or people) to express back to you, in their own words, what they feel you are saying to them. Again, you will have the opportunity to re-communicate or clarify something that might be getting misconstrued. Though the reaffirming what you’re hearing someone else say is an added step to the process, it is one that will save you an extreme about of time and frustration over your lifespan.
- Diffuse and table a conversation if you feel there are distractions.
While you may feel you are being an attentive and open listener in the conversation, you might pick up on some cues that this is not being returned by the other person. If you notice they seem distracted either by the environment, their thoughts or their emotions, it’s worth putting a pause on the conversation and coming back to it in a day or so when everyone can be fully present. Be sure to schedule a time and don’t let too many hours or days pass before re-addressing the conversation and putting it to bed. Most importantly, end the conversation on respectful terms and with the understanding that your intent is to re-enter the conversation when everyone has collected their thoughts (and their cool).
Do you agree that all effective communication is built on the foundation of listening and understanding one another? What other key components do you feel contribute to effective communication?
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