The art of communication is the language of leadership.
– James Humes
As a parent, I often reference the ancient wisdom of the philosopher Epictetus:
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
If you have kids, you know the value of reminding them to speak less, especially when they interrupt incessantly and talk themselves in circles, but the wisdom applies to all of us regardless of age.
Though I’m sure there was more to our overall design, the quote is a good reminder that effective communication begins with active listening and understanding before reacting.
Another favorite quote by Stephen Covey is “listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.”
When it comes to effective communication, spend more time listening, reading, asking questions, and processing what you learn before spouting off an unfiltered, ill-thought-out response.
Communication consists of two components: convey and receive.
With so many methods of communication: phone, text, video, the message conveyed is not always the message received. Tone, length, word choice, and a host of other factors can mangle a seemingly innocent message into a full-on linguistic assault if not carefully and thoughtfully conveyed.
Communication is a two-way street, but a generous communicator will yield the floor to learn more before reacting.
In many conversations, both professional and personal, I find that my initial reaction is not always the final as we peel back the layers and discover what’s the message beneath the surface. In other words, my initial assessment evolves once we dig a little deeper and unpack a bit more information.
Like you, I’ve received what seems like a scathing or accusatory message only to find out that the person was having a bad day or was in a hurry. If we fire back without seeking to understand, a simple misunderstanding can damage the relationship.
When it comes to communication, take the time to receive twice as much as you transmit.
Five tips to improve your communication skills
- Ask More, Say Less
Have you ever noticed how delightful it is to have a conversation with someone that allows you to speak the entire time? As wonderful as it is for your ego, you likely are with a skilled communicator who is curious by nature and is genuinely interested in learning about you. It’s refreshing and is the foundation for building a great relationship. Ask lots of questions, be genuinely interested, go beyond the small talk. If you’re going into a networking event or a party, ask the host to give you a few bits of information about the attendees to facilitate the start of conversations.
- There is Power in the Pause
One of my dad’s favorite sayings is, “you had a lot of words in you.” It always makes me laugh because it’s a polite way of saying I may talk too much. Generally speaking, we all have a lot of words, and people are often willing to talk more than we let them. If given the opportunity, they will elaborate on what they’ve already said and given you the opportunity for greater understanding. Add a pause and notice with more details flow.
- Create Curiosity
When engaging in conversation, hold back on the long-winded details. Provide a critical insight, experience, or opinion but then pause and allow interest to brew in the receiver. I’m sure you’ve been in a conversation with someone who unloaded a trunk full of words that left you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed just from listening, don’t be that person. Fight the urge to share everything. Make concise and straightforward statements. If more clarification or explanation is needed, let them ask —if they do, that means they will likely be more interested in what you have to say.
- Observe More
Have you ever met someone that remembers your name and a tidbit of personal information like it’s their superpower? We all love that person because they paid attention to us and made us feel special; be that person. When you’re engaging in conversation, notice if there is something new or different about their appearance. Pay attention to their tone and pace; do they seem relaxed or hurried? When you make observations, you can weave them into the conversation, and it shows that you are a generous and thoughtful communicator that pays attention.
- Check Your Body Language
I had an individual on my team once that sat arms crossed with a disinterested look during every conversation. At first, I thought it was a one-off but quickly learned it was an off-putting norm. Sadly, the individual was utterly unaware but thankfully was willing to accept feedback and incorporate positive changes. Your body language speaks volumes, so make sure you are sending the right message. Maintain eye contact, sit up straight, and be attentive; that means stop trying to sneak glances to your smartphone or looking across the room towards something else that may be grabbing your attention.
Communication is the foundation to strong, healthy, and collaborative relationships. Spend more time listening and learning, and over time, you’ll have more better conversations, improve rapport and create ideal outcomes.
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