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?

Do You Talk or Do You Communicate?

Communication is an essential element of leadership.

Authentic Servant Leaders know that talking and actually communicating are two very different things. Talking generally requires only one person but communicating always requires at least two.

As a leader you must know that that no matter how well you choose your words if no one is listening then you’re just talking, not communicating. Talking is about the person saying the words, communicating is about the person or persons hearing them.

Abraham Lincoln was the second speaker on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Lincoln was preceded on the podium by the famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke to the crowd for two hours. Lincoln followed with his now immortal Gettysburg Address.

On November 20, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Lincoln used 268 words in barely 2 minutes to express his thoughts on one of the greatest battles of the US Civil War. With 268 words in 2 minutes he motivated a nation to carry on and persevere. His speech that day is often considered to be among the best ever delivered by a US President. Most American kids still learn about it in school.

I’m sure Edward Everett had great things to say that day but he talked, Lincoln communicated.

The next time you’re preparing to speak just stop for a moment and ask yourself this question: is what I’m about to say for my benefit or the benefit of the person I’m speaking with? If what you’re about to say is solely for your benefit then it’s likely your talking, not communicating.

Great communicators talk with other people, not to them. Great communicators don’t count their words, they weigh them. I have no way of knowing this for sure but I’d bet my last dollar that President Lincoln had no idea how many words he spoke during the Gettysburg Address, but he knew with certainty what he wanted to say and what his audience needed to hear.

He choose his words accordingly. You should too!

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

20120816-100800.jpg

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of history’s most famous and remembered speeches – the Gettysburg Address. It was 273 words. It took 2 minutes to deliver. The main address that day (the one Lincoln followed) was given by Edward Everett (known to be one of the greatest speakers of the time) and lasted 2 hours. His note to Lincoln on the event…“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

If you’re making a presentation, any kind of presentation and your audience is only hearing blah, blah, blah then YOU have a problem.

Are you a Lincoln or an Everett? Let me ask that another way; how long was your last presentation? How could it have been shorter without losing impact? (I’m assuming it had impact.)

Over the next couple weeks invest some time examining the length of your presentations (both formal and informal versions). For every point and every line ask, “Why is this needed for my presentation?” If you’re unsure of the reason, cut it, lean and effective should be your goal.

If you don’t have it written, planned, and practiced, get that done soon. The chances of a rambling presentation skyrocket without a formally developed presentation.

Time is money and effective presenters know it as well as anyone.

Tic toc…

That was 238 words, they sure add up fast!