“Communication is not saying something; communication is being heard.” – Frances Hesselbein
We’ve all had the experience of speaking to someone and, much to our surprise and/or frustration, they don’t hear us at all. Even in a quiet setting, when we’ve chosen our words carefully, they seem to go missing in action.
We might react to this by repeating ourselves – and sometimes that works. Or we might speak a bit louder. We call the other person’s attention to the situation with personal phrases like “Why aren’t you listening?” or “What is it you don’t understand?”
And sometimes we give up, walk away, abandon the communication … which then impacts a project, a deadline, a relationship.
Excellent communication involves taking full responsibility for being heard and this involves a lot more than talking. Other skills are also essential.
What other skills impact our ability to be heard and understood? Are you already using them?
Watch or listen.
Allow for a small “space” after you’ve finished speaking. Focus on the other person’s reaction. When you are on camera or in the same room, you might see them nod their head in understanding. Or they might display a thoughtful expression, indicating they are reviewing your comments and considering their answer. If their facial expression is blank or displays confusion or a question, you’ll know your words haven’t accomplished what you hoped. On the phone, listen for sounds of agreement, such as “yes” or “uh-huh”. Complete silence can mean they are thinking … or that they are confused. Asking “What’s your reaction?” will help you know if you need to rephrase or provide more clarity.
Stop for distractions.
Active listening cannot be multi-tasked. If you are speaking with someone who starts checking their phone, or sorting items on their desk, or reading a document … stop talking. Wait. They will notice, especially if you do this mid-sentence. They will give you their full attention again. You can say something such as, “Would it be better for you if we discussed this at another time?” Or you can simply start speaking from where you left off.
One topic at a time.
This is an error I make frequently. I make connections to multiple ideas or projects very quickly and put them all together in one statement. My audience can be left completely confused. They need more details to make the same connections. I practice speaking in “paragraphs”, limiting myself to statements that only include one idea, request or suggestion. Once this has been discussed, I add a second idea, request or suggestion. This allows me to share the connections I’ve discovered as opposed to presenting them in a jumble of words.
Everyone processes words and ideas at a different pace. If the person you are speaking with is not responding to you, it may be because they are three or four sentences behind. Simply take a deep breath and slow down, leave a bit of space between your words and phrases. You’ll discover that someone you thought would never listen to you is suddenly responding and inspiring more in-depth conversations.
What skills do you use to help others listen? Do share them in the comment section below.