Effective Communication Begins with You

I will occasionally have someone ask me about what to do with a person who won’t listen. My answer is always some variation of “I don’t know, I’ve never met someone who wouldn’t listen.” 

 

Their reaction is most often a combination of surprise, disappointment and frustration. They don’t believe I don’t know people who won’t listen. They are disappointed I can’t help and they are frustrated because they think I’m playing games with them.

 

But the truth is I have never met anyone who wouldn’t listen. I have however met some people who I couldn’t motivate to listen. Their failure to listen is on me, not them. I didn’t say anything worth listening to, at least from their point of view. 

 

You may not be willing to accept responsibility for the other person’s desire to listen and that’s fine…so long as you do not consider yourself to be a leader. But if you think of yourself as a leader then you must lead. That includes engaging people in conversation that they find meaningful. So meaningful that it motivates them to listen. 

 

To motivate others to listen you must first stop talking. Put yourself in their position and think about what is important to them. When you do talk make sure you talk in terms of the other person’s interests. Give them a reason to listen. Find a way to make your point while showing them that there is something for them in your point as well. 

 

Yes, that takes effort, and thought, but I’ll tell you without a doubt that talking without thinking is not real communication. It is certainty not effective communication. 

 

Look at the person you’re speaking with. Notice I didn’t say speaking to…I said speaking with. Great communicators don’t talk at or to people. They speak with them. Ditch your phone, notepad, tablet or whatever else may distract you from truly listening to them. That’s vital because the moment they sense a lack of listening on your part is about the same moment they no longer feel compelled to listen to you. 

 

On a side note, some of you will say taking notes is how you “listen.” There are times when taking notes is necessary but those are few and far between. Few people are exceptional at listening while taking notes. You miss what’s being said while you’re writing down what was said earlier. Make some quick notes after the conversation if need be but don’t kid yourself into believing you’re not missing something while you’re writing.

 

Don’t interrupt someone if you want them to listen to you. Interrupting someone mid-sentence is a sure sign that you’re not really listening. Most people, and yes I mean most, most people listen in order to respond and not to understand what is being said. If you’re interrupting people you’re likely in that “most” group. 

 

Linger on the words of the person speaking until you‘re sure what was said and meant. Only then should you begin speaking again.

 

Have you noticed yet that this post on being a better communicator has a strong focus on listening. Don’t make the incredibly common mistake of thinking communicating is only about talking. If you’re not listening intently to what the other person is saying then you may be in a two-sided monologue but you’re not in a conversation. 

 

The best communicators I know listen far more than they talk. You really get the feeling that when they do talk you had better be paying attention because you don’t want to miss it. 

 

I personally feel comfortable telling someone I’m a good speaker. I can’t honestly always rate myself that well when I take out the word speaker and replace it with communicator. But the fact that I know the difference between speaking and communicating at least gives me a chance to improve. 


As always I remain a work in progress. How about you?

Leaders Listen

Most of us, myself included, tend to take the ability to hear for granted. We also too often confuse the ability to hear with the ability to listen.

Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences.

The best leaders listen. They are always listening. They even listen to things that they would just as soon not hear. 

Leaders make themselves available to hear the “noise” in their organizations because that’s like inside information.

Weak leaders try to silence the noise, better leaders encourage it and find a way to turn even negative noise into useful information. Think about it, would you as a leader rather pretend all is well or would you rather know where your opportunities for improvement might be?

When you listen, really really listen, you will likely hear some things you wish you hadn’t. You may even hear some stuff that isn’t true. You must also realize that part of your role as a leader requires that you have the ability to sort the good information from the not so good. (A bit of an aside here but as a leader you also do have a responsibility to stop untruths from being spread)

Authentic Servant Leaders know that good listening is the beginning of great ideas so they listen at every level of their organization. 

They also listen with more than their ears. They “listen” with their eyes to determine if what they are hearing matches with what they are seeing. They “listen” with their heart as well to determine the level of emotion attached to what was said. 

Authentic Servant Leaders understand that communication is a participative endeavor and that actually communicating requires them to listen more than they talk. 

If you’re a true leader then you certainly know that you still have much to learn. Hopefully then you also know that you’ll learn more in a few minutes of listening then you’ll learn in hours of talking. 

So listen up. Listen to what was said, listen to how it was said, listen to when it was said, and listen to whoever said it. 

You’ll never know where your next learning opportunity will come from unless you’re always listening. Anyone can teach everyone something and that means as a leader you should invest the time to hear from all of your people. 

Did you hear that?

How to Grow Yourself

Generally speaking I like people. My challenge is that I like some people more than others. 

The people I like most are the ones who are most like me. They think like me, they have the same interests and hobbies as me and they even sort of look like and talk like me. 

But I also have this almost insatiable need to learn and to grow, to be challenged and to push myself. As much as I love being around people who are just like me I don’t learn that much from them. They seldom challenge my thinking and they rarely cause me to change my opinion. 

So I force myself to talk with people who I disagree with. I read the darnedest stuff written by people who are clearly off the wall with their thinking. I listen to people who are obviously wrong.

Except sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the people who I disagree with are right. Once in a while that off the wall “junk” is invaluable in helping me see another point of view, and sometimes it’s me who is wrong. (Just to be clear, that doesn’t happen often but sometimes…)

I’d never know any of that if I just hung around people who were just like me. 

My friends and family, who I truly cherish, provide me with a stable, supportive, and caring environment which I and every other human on the planet absolutely needs. But our “group think” does little to help any of us grow.

It’s the people who wouldn’t be my first choice to spend lots of time with, the people who come from different and varying backgrounds, even the people who I outright dislike that frequently help me grow the most. 

IF I’m willing to listen and IF I’m willing to change. 

Those two “if’s” are often the biggest challenge most of us face on the journey to reach our full potential. If you’re willing to listen, to consider that you could be wrong, to believe it’s possible that someone has a better way of doing something, then you have a chance to truly grow. 

Of course, I could be wrong about all of this.

 

How to be a Better Listener

I could make this the shortest post in the history of blogging by simply writing “be quiet.” 

But I won’t.

I recall a time years ago when a friend of mine was flying from Minneapolis to Tampa. That’s a fairly long flight and almost as soon as he found his seat the person next to him began talking. His seat mate talked the entire flight with my friend just interjecting a word or a nod here and there.

When the flight landed his seat mate complimented him on his terrific conversational skills. They said it was the most enjoyable conversation they had ever had on a flight. 

My friends “secret” to a great conversation was his ears. He listened well. 

If you want to be a good listener then you’re going to have to listen. Really really listen. Linger on the words of the person speaking long enough to truly hear them and not just hear them but understand them. 

Great listeners understand this simple truth: if you’re talking then you’re not listening. When you’re talking you might be able to hear what the other person is saying but you’re not listening in a meaningful way.

You’ll learn more in an hour of listening then you can learn in a month of talking so if you want to learn more then listen more and listen better.

To be a better listener understand the value of saying nothing when you have nothing of value to say. Saying less doesn’t make you a poor communicator, in fact, it just might make you a better one. 

If you really want to be a better listener then stop talking, that at least will be a pretty good start. Listening well requires focus so put the smartphone down, turn the TV off, look the other person in the eye, be quiet and LISTEN, really really listen.

The Gift of Listen

As far back as I can remember there has been a saying that good salespeople have the gift of gab. 

For the last 30 years or so I’ve known that saying to be utterly false. Good salespeople, actually great salespeople, truly professional salespeople, don’t have the gift of gab, they have the gift of listen. 

You’ll never hear a truly professional salesperson say that they “talked” anyone into doing anything. The best salespeople actually listen far more than they talk. They  don’t want to sell people stuff that they don’t need. They want to help them buy products and services that help their customer receive a real benefit in return. 

Great salespeople ask great questions of their customers knowing full well that if they ask the right questions what follows are honest answers that will help them help their customer.

Once they ask great questions then they listen and they don’t just listen to respond, they listen to understand. They linger on the words of their customer until they fully understand the needs and wants of their customer. If for any reason they don’t fully understand they will ask more questions until they do. What they never do is guess. They don’t guess at what their customer might need or what they might want, they ask great questions and then they listen until they understand.

They listen as if that particular customer is the only customer in the world because they know that, in that moment, they are in fact the only customer that matters. 

If you want to know how you measure up to the best sales professionals in the world consider this: the best sales professionals listen more than twice as much as they talk. 70% of their interactions with a customer are invested in listening and only 30% are spent talking. For average salespeople those percentages are just about reversed. 

You will never learn how to help your customer by talking to them, talking just starts the communications process. Listening to your customer helps you learn how to help them, listening completes the communications process.

So… are you listening yet?

 

Understanding Success – Part Six

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the sixth post of an eight post series. They will be short posts, each just long enough to give you time to focus on one “it” of success until the next post arrives. The goal of this series is not to get you thinking about success, it’s to help you do the things that successful people do and less successful people don’t. The choice of success is completely up to you, always keep that important fact in mind.

While successful people are highly productive they are never to busy to listen. More important they understand the huge difference between hearing and actually listening.

You see, hearing is an involuntary process that starts with noise, vibrations, the movement of fluid in the ears and sound sent to the brain. We hear lots of things that we would just as soon not.

Listening on the other hand is a voluntary act where you try to make sense out of the noise you hear. It doesn’t matter who is doing the talking, if you’re not listening then you’re missing what could be important information that could help you succeed. 

Successful people never fool themselves into thinking they can learn anything while talking. They know that if they are talking then they are not listening and if they are not listening then they are not learning. It’s just that simple!

I think everyone would agree that communication is an essential skill for a leader. What many people fail to realize is that listening is at least 50% of the communication process. Listening is a vital skill for leaders because leaders who don’t listen will find themselves with a room full of followers who have nothing to say and those same poor leaders will mistake the silence for agreement. 

Authentic leaders focus so much on listening that they even hear, and understand, what wasn’t said. That’s outstanding listening!

Effective listening requires making some choices. The most important choice is to decide that you will listen to understand rather than merely listen to respond. Linger on the words of the person you’re speaking with until you understand their meaning. Don’t be afraid of a slight pause in the conversation, allow a moment or two to allow their words to fully register. 

Decide that everyone you talk with has something important to say. While not everything anyone says is important, you never know when brilliance will show itself so listen, really listen, and you just may discover how much other people really know.

One of the kindest gifts you can give to someone is the gift of your listening. Decide to listen as if they were the only person in your world, rid yourself of all distractions, tune out all the noise, look them in the eye and just listen.

Focus on listening rather than just hearing and you will likely be both surprised and delighted by what you will learn.

Old Ears

wpid-Photo-20150419143300778.jpgSome people have old ears.

I know, I know, you're thinking, “well, obviously, some people are old,” so they have old ears. But a person’s age has little to do with how old their ears are. It has to do with how open their mind is.

You see “old” ears has to do with hearing “it all” before. An older person can have very young ears and a younger person can have very old ears.

When a person has old ears they stop listening before the other person has finished speaking. They don’t really need to listen because they have heard it all before.

People with old ears only listen to respond. People with young ears listen and listen more until they understand what is being said. People with old ears are forced to make new decisions with stale information while people with young ears are making great decisions with current information. Young eared people never stop listening and because of that, they never stop learning either.

You can keeps your ears young by simply using them throughout the day. If there is something worth listening to then you should be listening. People who desire younger ears seek out good information and interesting people which makes it easier to listen.

Young ears are a choice and so are older ears. When you choose to listen, really, really listen then you're also choosing younger ears. When you stop listening because you have heard it all before you are giving yourself old ears and you are missing so much of life because of it.

Choose young ears and choose a vibrant life full of learning and growth. You will be surprised how fresh you can stay by filling your brain with a bit of new information each day.

It’s seems counterintuitive but again, the best way to keep your ears young is to use them. Use them to listen to a variety of opinions and people. Use them to listen to “tones” you may not like and use them hear people outside your “normal” group of influencers.

Hearing comes naturally but listening is a skill. It’s a skill we can choose to develop if we really want to learn and keep in mind, the most successful people learn something new every single day.

Are you listening?