Since communicating is such an important skill, one might think by adulthood, we would be excellent at it. Sadly, emotions and egos corrupt the communication channels. In stressful situations, the “fight or flight” mode is triggered.
It is an automatic response that we have little control over. In these challenging yet critical exchanges, our human body is hard-wired to send blood to the limbs (to fight) or legs (for flight). With less blood reaching our brain we are not able to think clearly, and our communication suffers as a result.
The problem is … modern day challenges are more likely mental, not physical. So, when we need our rational thinking to function at a high level, we are at our worst. When misunderstandings happen, what is the result? Projects get delayed, conflicts erupt, customers leave, employees quit, sales are lost. And in our personal lives, relationships deteriorate or end all together.
Management gurus will tell you that listening is a critical skill for professional and personal success. Listening is a common component in negotiating, selling, presenting, and interviewing. It is also key to effective leadership and good customer service. Yet, a gap remains between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Reading books on golfing may not directly improve my game. And, while I have conducted communication workshops in over eight countries, I am not always at my best in critical communication situations.
Power listening is NOT about reaching agreement. If we were always in agreement, there would be no elections, or worse, no football games. Agreements are nice, but not necessary. Power listening IS about understanding and showing that we understand. Listening comes in two flavors: understanding facts and understanding feelings, also known as empathy. When you combine both flavors, you have the foundational ingredients to emotional intelligence.
Here are three tips to improve your listening and understanding:
Occasionally paraphrase what was said to show that you understand.
TWO WARNINGS: Don’t overuse this technique; no need to paraphrase everything said.
More importantly, don’t try it if you are not listening. You will embarrass yourself.
ONE HUGE BENEFIT: Just thinking about paraphrasing will make you a better listener.
Be sure your body language matches your intent - to listen and understand, without filters or biases. This requires making eye contact, facing the speaker, putting the remote down and not looking at your phone or screen. For more insights on the importance of body language, check out NCET Speaker Alexanne Stone’s website: https://www.alexannestone.com/
In addition to thoughts, we humans also communicate feelings. And, showing understanding of those feelings is called empathy. You show empathy by reflecting back what you see the person is feeling. And, like horseshoes, getting it close is many times good enough.
Although some of us are naturals, many of us are not skilled at listening. The good news is that listening is a skill that improves with practice and application.
After participating in this session, you will leave with a stronger ability to communicate and understand, which will impact both your personal and professional lives in a positive way.
Join us for NCET’s Biz Café on April 20 for insights and practice on power listening at the highest level. NCET is a member-supported nonprofit organization that produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology. More info at www.NCETcafe.org
John Castaldi is a communications consultant with expertise in career coaching and management development and has conducted leadership and communication workshops in over eight countries, and is General Manager of the Reno office for Lee Hecht Harrison (www.lhh.com)