“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” (MARK TWAIN)
Because I am married and I fly often, the following story is near and dear to my heart . . .
A man and his wife had been arguing all night, and as bedtime approached neither was speaking to the other. It was not unusual for the pair to continue this war of silence for two or three days, however, on this occasion the man was concerned; he needed to be awake at 4:30am the next morning to catch an important flight, and being a very heavy sleeper he normally relied on his wife to wake him.
Cleverly, so he thought, while his wife was in the bathroom, he wrote on a piece of paper: ‘Please wake me at 4:30am – I have an important flight to catch’.
He put the note on his wife’s pillow, then turned over and went to sleep.
The man awoke the next morning and looked at the clock. It was 8:00am. Enraged that he’d missed his flight, he was about to go in search of his errant wife to give her a piece of his mind, when he spotted a hand-written note on his bedside cabinet.
The note said: ‘It’s 4:30am – get up’.
Our communication with others may not be as dysfunctional as the couple in the previous story, but we all probably have room to improve in this area.
I like to think that I am an expert in the area of communications since that is what I majored in during college. My wife must of been a theater arts major because when I talk, she “acts” like she is listening.
Anyway, much has been written about communication techniques and strategies. If you ask most people how they could improve their communication skills, most of them would say something to the effect of being more persuasive, writing better or having better public speaking skills. However, I am going to give you 5 simple, yet overlooked ways that you can increase your communication effectiveness . . . and they all focus on listening better.
(1) Listen to Learn
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every man I meet is in some way my superior, and I can learn from him.” Even the smartest of individual doesn’t know it all. I oftentimes think of the proverbial salesperson that talks your ear off selling their product. However, they rarely stop to listen to what you truly want. Many a sale has been ruined by over-talking. Few sales have been lost because a person listened too much to what the customer wanted. Edgar Watson Howe, a 20th century novelist and newspaper editor, once joked, “No man would listen to you talk if he didn’t know it was his turn next.” How often are we thinking of what we are going to say next instead of truly listening to what the other person is saying so that we can more fully understand the situation and their thoughts? President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “If you are not listening, you are not learning.”
(2) Listen with your Eyes
I once coached a player by the name of Cori Jones. She actually played for me at two different schools (Bryan College and Martin Methodist College). Every time that I’d speak to the team, whether it was in the huddle during a timeout or in the locker room, she’d always have eye contact. She listened with her eyes. I don’t know what she was thinking, but her actions made me feel as though what I had to say was important. It gave me confidence as a coach that at least one person was listening to me. It gave me an additional reason to think that Cori was respectful and responsible. Listening with your eyes and paying attention to others may set you apart from others. It may lead to others having a higher opinion of you. Think of how unusual it will be if you stop focusing on your phone and look at the person talking. This might set you apart in their mind.
(3) Listen Intentionally
Good listeners are not good by accident. They intentionally choose to give their full-attention to the speaker. They don’t shuffle papers, look out the window, play on their phones. They also acknowledge things that the speaker says. They are paying attention so that they laugh at punch lines, react appropriately to a sad story or nod in agreement. Do not send the message that you are bored or don’t care about what the speaker is saying. This is difficult but we must have the mental toughness to take a break from us and make the other person the center of attention. It is amazing how much more interesting you’ll seem if you act interested in the other person. Stephen Covery once said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
(4) Listen with an Open Mind
Don’t judge what is being said. If you have questions or disagree, then ask legitimate probing and open-ended questions in order to understand what is being said, not to persuade. One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is to “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” Don’t interrupt, minimize emotions and avoid taking things personally. You are not always right. You may not agree with everything being said but there might be something you can learn. I often think of what Abraham Lincoln said during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”
(5) Listen through Observation
Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). Subtracting the 7% for actual vocal content leaves one with a 93% statistic of communication without words. This makes it very important to observe situational and contextual cues. We must be able to read a person’s mood, attitude and the overall environment of the communication. If we are not observing fully what is going on, both with the words, ideas and non-verbals being used then we may not be able to effectively communicate our message, nor understand the other person’s message. Finally, the business management expert, Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
Jamy Bechler is a John Maxwell Certified Leadership Speaker and Executive Coach. Contact him at CoachBechler@CoachBechler.com to find out how you or your team can be more successful. You can also subscribe to his leadership insights & newsletter by clicking here.