The Most Important Part of Communication 

I used to sell a training course on communication. The course was literally world famous and is still taken by thousands and thousands of people each year all over the world. Most of the people who sign up for the course claim to want to become better communicators but what they really want is to be better speakers. 

There is a big difference between being a better speaker and a better communicator. They learn the difference in the very first week of that 12 week class. They discover that there are two parts to communication. Talking, which is what they signed up to learn, and listening, which they think they are already good at. 

The best communicators understand the difference between a dialogue and a monologue. They know that when they listen they learn. They linger on the words of the person speaking until they are certain that they understand their intent. 

The best communicators listen more than they talk. They know that saying something is no guarantee that it was heard. So they ask checking questions to ensure the person they are communicating with both heard and understood what was said. 

Great communicators don’t talk to another person, they talk with them. The difference in word choice and tone of voice allows for the possibility of real communication to take place. 

When I hear someone say that they learn a lot by talking to other people I immediately question (to myself) their communication skills. That’s because no one learns anything by talking. When we talk we are repeating what we already know, or think we know. It is when we stop talking to listen that we actually learn. When I hear someone say they learn a lot by listening to other people that’s when I know I’m talking with a good communicator. 

Here’s one surefire way you can be a better communicator this very day… put down the darn phone. I know it’s called a smart phone but if it was really smart it would shut itself off when it detected another life form within 3 feet of you. 

The number one cause of poor communication is distraction. The biggest distraction most of us deal with day in and day out is the hunk of electronics almost permanently attached to our hands. 

You cannot text and listen. You cannot watch videos and truly listen to another person. You can’t play whatever game you’re currently fascinated with and give another person’s words the attention they deserve. 

You cannot communicate if you’re not listening. Listening is the most important part of communication. Listening is the key that unlocks the words you need to use to deliver your message in a way that will be heard. Sometimes listening to another person speak is all you need to do to make a significant difference in their life. 

When you become a better listener you become a better person. You become better informed. You become a better friend, spouse and parent. 

You can be better in all those areas by making a decision to talk less and listen more. You may even discover that when you listen with complete attention you actually have nothing meaningful to add to the conversation. That’s when you know you’re truly a great communicator. 

If They Didn’t Hear it Then You Didn’t Say It

Leaders must be effective communicators. They must accept 100% responsibility for the success of all communications. When what they communicated was fully understood by those it was communicated to then and only then has successful communication taken place. 

Authentic Leaders never assume that communication has taken place merely because they said something. They don’t use more words than are required to clearly communicate. They don’t use bigger words than needed to be completely understood. 

They also don’t blame others for their failure to communicate effectively. They ask follow-up questions of the person they are talking with to determine if what was heard matches what they said. 

Notice I said “talking with,” not talking to. The most effective communicators understand the difference between a monologue and a dialogue. Authentic leaders know that true communication is an exchange of information.  That’s why they listen as much as they talk, actually many listen more than they talk. 

Lack of communication or miscommunication is the genesis of most conflict. 

If you’re a leader and your people didn’t understand what you communicated then you didn’t communicate. At least not effectively. You may have been better off saying nothing at all. 

Never mistake talking for communicating. Speak and listen. Verify what was said was actually heard. Verify what you heard was actually said. Authentic leaders don’t guess at what was said and they don’t assume what they said was heard. 

Poor communication skills can stop the momentum of the best organizations. It can damage the morale of the of even the most positive people. It can undermine the culture of a company. Poor communication starts more rumors than a room full of gossiping fools. 

Improve your communication skills and you’ll improve all aspects of your leadership. Struggle with your communication skills and all of your relationships will suffer as a result. 

They are called communication “skills” because like any skill they can developed and enhanced. You only have to commit to make it so!

You’d Better Do More Than Say You’re Listening

4.3 million people quit their jobs in September as the “Great Resignation” continues to pick up steam. This as thousands of companies continue to pretend that this won’t have any impact on them. 

In a recent survey of people who quit their jobs within the last 12 months a full 79% reported a major reason for leaving was the feeling that their efforts were not appreciated by their organizations. 

But the question is, where did that “feeling” of no appreciation come from?

In many cases it came directly from “management” not listening to their employees. I’d hazard a guess that many of the companies that lost employees told their people that “we are listening” to you. Some likely made a big deal out of their desire to listen to their employees.  They encouraged their people to “speak up.” 

Maybe those companies actually listened and maybe they didn’t. And therein lies the problem. The employees have no idea if they are being listened to because they receive no feedback on their suggestions, questions, or complaints. They don’t see any changes come about because of their efforts to communicate. 

The lack of change or feedback leads people to believe that management doesn’t value their input, experience, or knowledge. Looking at it objectively I’d have to say the people are almost certainly right. 

It’s always been that way to some extent. Today, for a variety of reasons, people are more likely to leave the company than put up with it. 

To be clear people are quitting their jobs for a wide variety of reasons but if you don’t solicit input from your people they are likely to leave faster. If you do solicit input and then appear to do nothing with it they leave even faster. 

If you are a leader in your organization you must make certain that EVERY suggestion, question, or complaint is responded to. You must make every effort to receive those suggestions, questions, or complaints with an open mind. You must be willing to guarantee that no matter the feedback from employees there will no retaliation of any kind. 

Most of all you must be willing to change what makes sense to change. You should also be prepared to explain, with some detail, why something cannot change. 

Explaining a policy or why things are done a certain way does not make you a weak leader. Someone asking why something is done a particular way is not challenging your leadership. In most cases they are trying to help. They are trying to make a difference. 

Communicating with the people you lead makes them feel valued. Feeling valued is more important than money and benefits. It’s so important that people would rather quit their jobs than sell their souls for a paycheck. If you’re running a business and you haven’t figured that out yet then you best be buying a whole bunch more “help wanted” signs cause you need a lotta help.

Some organizations will indeed be impacted less by the Great Resignation. That’s because they do more than merely listen to their people, they do something with what they have learned by listening. 

When Leaders Don’t Listen

It’s great to work with a leader who knows a lot. It’s absolutely terrible to work for a leader who knows it all. 

I want you to pay particular to the wording of those two sentences. When a leader knows a lot they work WITH their people to create an environment of growth and success. When a leader knows it all they tend to be far more “boss” like than leader like. They don’t work with their people, they expect their people to work FOR them. 

Leaders who believe they already know it all don’t listen to their people. They don’t need to because the only reason anyone actually listens is to learn something. When you have nothing to learn you have no need to listen. 

It’s bad for anyone not to listen. The most successful people learn something new almost every single day. Much of what they learn they learn by listening. When people in leadership positions don’t listen the results can be disastrous. 

Leaders who don’t listen demoralize their people. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of knowing how to help their people stay motivated. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of showing their people that they care. Leaders who don’t listen will never earn the commitment of their people. 

Leaders who don’t listen have to rely on compliance instead of commitment. They will need to try and force productivity out of their people. They may eventually get some work out of them but the quality and quantity of that work will be less than idea.

Compliance will never take an organization and it’s people to the places where commitment can go. 

It is nearly impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. But leaders who don’t listen think communication is only about talking. So they talk and talk and talk. They tell people what to think, they tell them how to think it, and they tell them when to think it. 

Communication is also about listening. In fact, communication is mostly about listening. 

Leaders who do listen give themselves a chance to learn. They give themselves the opportunity to receive information from multiple sources and break it down into actionable tasks. 

Leaders who practice the art of listening receive feedback on their own performance as well as unbiased input about the performance of all members of their team. It allows them to create a truly inclusive organization based on performance not favoritism. 

Leaders who are willing to listen learn exactly how to show their people that they care about them. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their people and they find positions for them where they can succeed. 

Hearing is a gift from God but listening is a choice. Authentic Leaders make the choice to listen to their people, to their customers, to anyone who might help them lead even a little better. 

Have you made the choice to listen? If not it’s a simple choice, just look in the mirror and tell the person looking back that they have a lot to learn. Then start talking less and listening more because when it comes to listening one thing is certain…. if you’re talking then you’re most certainly NOT listening. 

Listening is Free

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but the world, yep, not only the US but the entire world seems divided right now. Never in my lifetime has the divide between different groups of people been wider.

Even in times of World Wars the divide was not as great as it is right now. Even during the World Wars people agreed on more things than they do today. Governments started those wars, not the people of the countries that were dragged into them.

But today is different. The universal language is one of hate. We throw the word hate around as if it almost has no real meaning. People claim to hate people who hate. “We” all hate all the hating going on these days.

We make slogans and signs about who and what matters. We talk about what must change and who must change. I’m struck by the number of people who “demand” immediate change yet refuse to look in the mirror to see if there is any change they could make personally.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying many things but one thing he said might be more applicable today than even the day he said it. When commenting on someone he was not particularly fond of he said, “I do not like that man. I need to get to know him better.”

Lincoln knew what too many people today seemingly have forgotten. That is that we human beings have far more in common than we give ourselves credit for. We can focus on the things that draw us together or we can focus on the things the push us apart. That’s a choice.

But that won’t happen until we do something else that seems to be a thing of the past.

That “thing” is called listening.

I mean real listening. Not reading someone’s social media posts. Not hearing some filtered version of what somebody thinks or what someone said someone said someone said. It’s a sad commentary on the world we live in but if you didn’t hear someone say it yourself then you might want to have some doubts about whether or not it was actually said.

Plus…don’t only listen to people who agree with you! Invite conversations with people who have vastly different views and life experiences than you. Do not think them wrong simply because their views are different than yours. Don’t talk to them, talk with them to determine where your views overlap. Build on that overlap!

I take great comfort from talking with people who share my views and beliefs. I like talking to my family and friends. But whatever growth I experience at this point in life comes from talking with people who frankly might not be my first choice to talk with.

You and I do not have to like the people who see the world differently than we do but we do need to understand how they view their life. We need to understand that if our life experiences were identical to theirs that our views would likely be identical too.

Most of all we need to get to know them better. The more we know about people the less chance there will be that we judge them. I want to say that again….the more you know about someone the less chance there is that you will judge them.

Listen more. Listen with your heart and your mind WIDE open. Listening is free but it just might be that it liberates you from hate. Listening is one of those things that while free it is also priceless!

Listening, really listening to different views could save you great pain. It could save your Country severe turmoil. Listening, truly truly listening to one another might even save the world.

Are You a Talker or a Communicator? Part One

Before I begin this post on communication I feel that I must point out that I’m only writing about half of the communication process. And it’s the least important half. 

 

The communication process of course involves speaking and listening. Of the two listening is far more important. Listening is how we learn. You will learn more in five minutes of listening then you will learn in a lifetime of talking. Sometime in the future I’ll probably do a post on listening, maybe right after I do that post on procrastination. But for now we are talking about the speaking part of the process. I should also point out that much of the speaking part can also apply to our written communications. 

 

Here’s something you might not like to hear but you’ll be a much better communicator if you believe it: you are 100% responsible for both parts of the communication. You are 100% responsible for everything you say and you are 100% responsible for everything the other person hears.

 

If you ever had a disagreement where the other person says “well you said…..” and then you say, “no, I said…..” then YOU have missed the mark as a communicator. If the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand what you’ve said then the whole point of the communication has been missed. 

 

The first step in being a more effective communicator is to accept total responsibility for the miscommunication. If you simply blame the other person for their poor communication or listening skills then you will miss the opportunity to improve your own. 

 

Speak in such as way as to encourage the other person to listen. Use words and a tone of voice that draw your listener in. Talk in terms of THEIR interests to encourage them to linger on your words long enough to understand them. 

 

Don’t use a bigger word than you need to. Don’t use lingo you’re familiar with, use their lingo. Or don’t use lingo at all. Sometimes people use lingo to try and impress someone but what’s truly impressive is being able to communicate in a way that anyone can understand. 

 

What surprises me most about my own communications is how often I say something with no consideration of how it will sound to the person I’m speaking with. I just blurt it out. I mean who has time to think about what they are saying before they say it. 

 

Well, I have time. So do you. 

 

The challenge is taking 2 or 3 seconds, yep, that’s all it takes, to consider our words before we say them. There will be a bit of silence in that two or three seconds and we, well me, thinks that makes us look stupid, like we don’t know what to say. 

 

Abraham Lincoln once said something like “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” 

 

Talkers talk. Communicators chose their words to convey the intended message. Which one are you? 

 

I’ve been working hard at thinking about what I’m about to say for a few seconds before I say it. What I’ve found is that I often end up not saying anything. It’s like my mom always told me…if you have nothing of value to add to a conversation then perhaps nothing is what you should add. 


In the second part of this post we’ll look at some of the more technical aspects of effective communication. There are clearly methods of communication that work and methods that don’t. We’ll be looking at the ones that work! 


The Value of Being Interested in Others

It’s the kiss of death in sales, and it’s the kiss of death in networking. It is pretty much the kiss of death whenever we are trying to build a relationship. It’s when we talk too much. 

 

Often, in our desire to tell everything we know, we go on and on without letting the other person participate in the discussion. The truth is, if you’re doing most of the talking, you’re not as successful as you could be in your sales career. Your likely not as successful as you could be in life either. 

 

Here’s an idea to try. This week pay particular attention to the amount of time you spend talking versus the amount of time you spend listening. It makes no difference if your conversation is in person or on the phone. It makes no difference if it’s a work conversation or you’re talking with a friend. After each conversation make note of the percentage of time you spoke — and the percentage of the time the other person spoke. This is just for you so be brutally honest.

     

If you find yourself dominating the discussion, make a conscious effort to listen more and talk less. In a sales conversation you should be letting your customer do about 70% of the talking. In a personal conversation aim for at least a 50-50 split. 

 

In either case remember that when you’re talking you’re only repeating what you already know. When you’re listening you have the chance to learn something new. 

 

As a salesperson when you let others speak, you’ll discover your customer’s wants and needs. Your sales presentations will be more on target and others will feel that you are knowledgeable and competent. Most important, you’ll make more sales.

 

Dale Carnegie said that we can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than we can in two years by trying to get people interested in us. 


One of the fastest ways to demonstrate your interest in other people is to listen to them. Really, really listen. Put down the phone, focus on them, make them feel that they are the most important person in the world. After all, in the moment they are talking with you, they are.