1. Four Keys to Effective Leadership
2. Speaking with Charisma
3. Boosting Morale
4. Dealing with Crisis

People Smarts

Communication Skills: Part I

The #1 Communication Skill – Listening

We listen more than we do anything else but breathe, and most of us don’t do it very well. In an age of multi-tasking and accelerated communication we constantly receive and filter endless amounts of information. Listening is exhausting.

Most of us wish we could spend less time waiting patiently while people talk. So why should we bother trying to improve a skill that’s already tedious? Listening enables you to truly understand and empathize with another person, and it is a prerequisite for being heard. In fact, in the best selling book The Leadership Challenge, listening is rated the number one skill of great leaders. The bottom line is if you want to have healthy professional and personal relationships learn how to listen well.

Unfortunately, listening is not as easy as it seems. You’ve probably been on either end of a conversation like this:

Person 1: “You’re not listening to me.”
Person 2: “Yes I am.”
Person 1: “No you’re not… you’re not even looking at me.”
Person 2: “Why should I look at you? I heard every word you said…”

Person 2 probably did hear every word person 1 said, but does not understand the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is mechanical and passive; it means that the words made it to your ears. Listening, on the other hand, is an interactive process. You don’t listen with you ears; you listen with your entire body, using your intellectual and physical energy. When you listen to people, your goal is first to hear, then understand and finally reflect your understanding so the speakers know they have communicated their message clearly.

If you want to become a better listener, try a few tips. You don’t have to do everything from this list all the time, but practice several of these suggestions on someone in your work or personal life:

• Open body language: When you are listening, start by facing people, uncrossing your arms and creating about two feet of distance between you. While they are speaking maintain eye contact. If they are uncomfortable looking at you, don’t force your eyes to meet. Your goal is to make them feel comfortable and relaxed.

• Verbal cues: These are small interjections that show you are following the conversation without interruption. Words like, “uh-huh” or “okay” are fine. You can also acknowledge them by saying things like, “I can see how upsetting this is for you.”

• Nod and lean in: Nodding shows that you are digesting the information and leaning in shows that you are interested. Studies show that men and women have very different styles when in comes to leaning in. When men listen, they tend to lean back; while women tend to lean in and get close to the person. A compromise is to lean in slightly and still give the other person space.

• Questions: Inquiries illustrate interest in what the person is talking about. Instead of remaining silent or changing the subject, ask an open-ended question.

• Mirroring: Subtly match your tone and body language with theirs to help them feel more comfortable with you.

• Paraphrase: Repeat what they told you to verify that you understood them correctly. Start by saying something like “So, what you’re saying is…” Then follow it up with a confirmation: “Is that right?” Paraphrasing shows the speaker unequivocally that you understood the message.

If this seems like too much work, remember the old adage: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The best way to get people to listen to you is to listen to them first. Pick someone in your life and give it a shot. Chances are the results you get will make you want to listen a lot more.