It seems there has been a recent wave of repercussions from communication issues: civil strife in Syria, a government shutdown in the US, and striking school bus drivers in Boston. Even our company server couldn’t communicate with its networks today so I could get not on my computer. Poor communication is also a well-known arbiter of corporate troubles (think Enron and BP). Studies and polls have shown that this can be one of the top contributors to a company’s demise or to employee attrition.
If communication is such an important aspect to business success as well as to our personal survival, why is it not a popular subject taught in school or within the top hiring qualifications?
We are social creatures and heavily depend on our ability to communicate to make our way through the world. Since communicating is a primary competency to job performance, let’s do it more effectively and we can enhance our relationships rather than strain them, get our needs met, and make progress in our work lives.
Here are some qualities of an excellent communicator:
When we “listen” to people, more often than not, we are actually thinking of what we are going to say while the other person is talking and therefore, only partially hear them. And then we run the risk of misinterpreting them by our cursory understanding of what they said or by seeming disconnected or off topic and potentially losing the other person’s attention. Listening well to me means focusing on hearing their words without another track rolling in my mind. It also suggests staying self-aware, and slowing down, even if for a second, my brain’s natural leap to interpret and give meaning to the words I heard. If I pause in my thoughts and consider, “What they just said is interesting. I want to listen to more” then I can participate in the conversation more fully.
An easy way to really listen to someone is to actually be curious about what they are saying. When we wonder and want to learn more we stay more focused on the other person. Curious questions are often open-ended which creates a better dialogue and allows for more detailed answers. I will learn so much more from you if I ask “What motivated you to do that?” rather than “Did you do that to prove your worth?” These open questions will also allow more flow in the conversation because you likely will have a follow-on question from new curiosity.
From working with our clients on communication skill-building, we know that you become a better communicator when you understand yourself better. This sounds counter-intuitive, but when you are aware of your internal workings and recognize your thoughts and feelings in each situation more quickly, you are able to make choices for how to respond or act. One of the main components of an emotionally intelligent person, self-awareness gives you the opportunity to bring yourself and the mindset you think best for the conversation at hand. Take stock in what is going on for you under the surface or in your mind as you communicate and shift your perspective if you find yourself reacting or making assumptions and interpretations without testing them. Open to multiple possibilities
For example, when I read something and realize I feel annoyed, I stop myself before hitting “reply.” This gives me time to first re-read slowly to make sure I fully understand the words expressed. Then once I’ve determined that I understand, if I still feel frustrated, I give the benefit of the doubt that the other person’s underlying motivations were still positive. I assume they were trying to communicate something important to me, despite that the way they wrote it didn’t sit well with me. I consider that I may still misunderstand what they are trying to tell me and formulate questions to help me learn more information. With that data, I can respond more calmly regarding the substance of the exchange and separate out any process- or relationship-oriented input. If needed, I can give feedback about the manner I prefer to be told based on what I know about myself when reading or hearing certain communications.
Once you have listened with curiosity, and gauged your internal awareness, share when something interesting occurs to you and you have a unique perspective on the topic of the conversation. By sharing your own ideas, experience and insights, you become more authentic in the eyes of your conversation counterpart and you build more rapport. Research says we are more likely to say yes or be influenced by those we like. One of our consultants says, “We make decisions personally and justify them corporately.” Providing your knowledge in an informative way when motivated by the intriguing dialogue happening will demonstrate your value and individuality.
The key to telling effectively in communication is to do so with genuine interest of something useful to share about yourself or the situation. For example, if you can give expertise, data or information that will enlighten your counterpart and bring depth to the conversation, provide it intelligently: “From my understanding…” or “In my experience…” This allows for further exploration and helps them avoid a perception of you as arrogant expert such as when comments of “what is” or “what isn’t” are stated.
Demonstrating that you understand the other party and can “sit in their shoes” is equally important for being an effective communicator. When we are able to observe the communication from different perspectives and are open to mindsets outside of our immediate one, we allow for more flow and exchange of ideas and a fuller comprehension of the situation. This promotes more expanded viewpoints on how to approach any disagreements or solutions. For example, if they have just said, “I prefer when someone is direct but diplomatic when giving me input on my projects,” you might respond, “I hear you and I feel the same way. I’d rather be told quickly and in a straightforward manner than having someone beat around the bush. And I try to return the favor when I have feedback to give someone.” Responses that are relatable and make connections between the parties are more effective than exchanging competing statements.
Another characteristic of the emotionally intelligent person, empathy also enhances one’s ability to be influential and trustworthy. And showing empathy meets a basic need in all communication: the desire of both parties in a dialogue to leave the conversation being heard and understood. When you exhibit the ability to demonstrate each side of self-awareness and awareness of others, your personal leadership skills shine.