Being a strong communicator is one of the few key skills that helps you in every single aspect of your life. Good communication helps you be a better colleague, boss, intern, parent, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, friend, daughter/son, sibling, and the list goes on.
When I ask you, "what's the best way to be a better communicator" what is the first thing that pops into your mind? Word-choice? Body-language? Thinking through your thoughts before you speak? Talking confidently and clearly?
Actually, I really don't think the answer doesn't have anything to do with talking at all.
The best way to be a better communicator is to become a better listener.
In my line of work as a coach, sometimes the information I'm trying to relay doesn't even really matter in comparison to how I'm communicating it. And how I determine how I communicate with someone, is to attentively listen to them. I listen to their tone, their word choice, the nuances and secondary meanings of certain things they're telling me, and most importantly, how they're choosing to relay information.
The only way I know how to most effectively respond and deeply connect with someone to make them feel understood, is just to listen without the intent to reply. Be like a sponge and absorb everything the other person is communicating to you, with that being your only purpose.
Being a good test-taker doesn't do you much good if you never absorbed the information taught in class. Absorbing, aka listening, is how we can better understand the best way to connect with another person or subject.
Do you think you're a good listener? Read this list below, and see if you identify with doing any of the following:
- Surface Listening: Pretending to listen while the listener's mind is thinking about something else or when listener is uninterested in the speaker or the topic.
- When people are on their phones or multi-tasking, saying "I'm still listening." No, you're not really because your brain is working on something else too.
- Solution Listening: Listening with the intention of providing answers, solving the speakers problems or offering advice.
- The fixers. Immediately jumping in with trying to help by offering solutions or fixes to feelings.
- Autobiographical Listening: Shifting the focus from the speaker to the listener when the topic being discussed triggers the listener's own experiences or feelings.
- When you chime in with "Actually that reminds me of when that happened to me" or "OMG same here! ___"-- tends to come out of good intentions of trying to relate to the speaker, but it is just dominating conversation.
- Interruptive Listening: Interrupting the speaker to say what the listener is impatient to say, to shift the conversation to unrelated tangents preferred by the listener, or to sidestep the issue being discussed by the speaker.
- This usually comes from those who are always "waiting for their turn to speak" so they can turn the conversation about their story or to the topic they wish to discuss.
- Inquisitive Listening: Listening from the perspective of the listener's self-serving curiousity.
- This usually is at networking events; only absorbing the information that is pertinent or helpful to yourself.
- Editorial Listening: Interrupting the speaker to correct or revise the speaker's words or to finish the speaker's lines.
- I see this in couples a lot when among a group. One person will start recounting a story, then the other partner interrupts to correct their partner or have their two cents in the conversation too.
Do you do any of these?
I know I certainly do sometimes.
I used to be a constant autobiographical listener when I was a kid. I thought it was me just trying to relate to others through my own anecdotes, but the reality is, is that it was just me talking about myself in response to another person's story. I know that I can definitely be fallible to the solution listening-- by nature, I am a fixer (hello, I'm a coach), but it's not always effective or necessary to do so. I surface listen when I'm cooking for others in my home, because I'm multi-tasking, and I know that kind of conversation always ends up much more shallow because of it.
If two people are constantly trying to shove their opinions and words into a conversation without taking a breath, there is no active listening happening.
Be a sponge- listen with open ears, open eyes, and an open heart.
A response is not always necessary, but a listening ear is. Just listen, and soak up their words. Your reaction (if warranted) will come from a more genuinely organic place, and will result in more effective communication.
My challenge for you this week:
When interacting with others, resist the urge to interrupt their words with affirmations (nods, "yeah!" "omg same!" and simply listen without the intent to reply.
See how it changes your perspective and understanding this week!