Communicating well is a fundamental key to a successful and effective life; while the key to communication is… probably not what you might think. A lot of theories talk of being more assertive but the most effective method is quite the opposite.
Before we get on to that, first we need to understand what communication is and how to do it well. The dictionary tells us that communication is the transfer or exchange of information while successful communication is when the information sent is the same as the information received. This requires both a receiver and a transmitter of the information.
So if communication is key to an effective life, and for it to be successful the same information that is received has to be the same that was sent; the key to effective communication is the exact opposite to being more assertive. Real, effective communication begins by first closing your mouth and opening your ears.
It may seem strange that to communicate better you have to shut up. But then again, once you think about it you’ll see the sense it makes. If you’re in a discussion with another person and both of you are talking at the same time, it means that there will be no one listening and no actual exchange of information from one person to another.
So the first thing that you’ve got to do is close your mouth and open your ears.
Your words can wait a little while. They’re not going to go anywhere. If they’re important, there will be an appropriate moment for them.
Why Listen First?
To answer this question you only have to think about your own behaviour. When you think you’ve got something to say, the only thing that you want to do is to share it. If two people are trying to do the same thing, then they’re not going to communicate when they are both shouting in each other’s faces at ever increasing volumes in order to be heard.
Communicating requires the receipt of information, so someone needs to start by listening. As you can’t make the other person listen you’re going to have to do it yourself.
If you choose to make a change to your own behaviour, if you quiet down and listen up by paying attention to the other person first, two things will happen. First, you might learn something to your advantage or interest. Second, once the other person feels that they’ve been heard and understood, they’ll be much more open to listening to you.
Now this doesn’t mean that you should just listen to others, waiting and never speaking. It just means that you take the time to appreciate the contribution of others.
Give it a go to see what happens. Listen earnestly. Listen with the aim of understanding. Listen to see the world from another perspective.
SCARF is a very useful tool that can be used when communicating. You can use it to understand your own motivations and those of the people around you. Check out this post to find out more.
The Power in Listening
Listening is a powerful tool for a number of reasons that I’ll outline below.
Stand Out for the Crowd
Listeners are rare. Most people prefer talking to listening. By being one of the few effective listeners, you’ll be unique. People are more likely to come speak to you for many reasons: to bounce around ideas, to hear your reaction on their insights, etc.
They’ll come to you because of your ability to listen, rather than your ability to talk.
Ernest Hemingway: I like to listen. I have learnt a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
Informed when Speaking
By spending time listening before speaking you gain a better understanding of people and situations. You know what’s going on and can take action based on that increased understanding. This greatly increases people’s confidence in what you’re saying over someone who just throws out their 10 pence worth of mind dump at the first opportunity.
Lets try an example – you go to a doctor because you’re experiencing severe back pain. Without asking any questions or performing any examinations they advise you to swim three times a week because they swim regularly and they have never had any back problems in their life. If this was to happen you wouldn’t have any confidence in their analysis or solution because your problem hasn’t been diagnosed. They haven’t listened to you. You need the doctor to understand your situation and issues before you can have confidence in their advice. This is true for everyone. We all want to be heard and understood before being lectured at.
Get informed first. Your words will have more weight.
In a world of social media where everyone and everything is screaming for attention, people get louder and louder just to feel like they have a voice, to feel that they’re important, to feel that they matter. You could join in this cacophony and fail to be heard, or you can do the opposite and provide a meaningful space of quiet for someone to be heard.
The gift is precious and rare. It allows others to feel safe and secure from judgement. They can vent, ponder, or reflect.
Giving up your time for someone else in this way is hugely meaningful and valuable. It will make a difference and it won’t go unnoticed by others who will be keen to return the favour.
Stephen R. Covey: Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
Greater Opportunity to Lead
By listening first you have a greater opportunities to lead going forwards. Various leadership techniques can be employed to take the conversation in the direction that you would like it to go. By summarising, asking questions or orientating the discussion towards solutions rather than problems you can be the instigator of progress and development.
This becomes an increasingly available option when you listen first. If you try and lead without understanding the situation first, people won’t have confidence in what you’re saying and will resist you on principle. If they have confidence that you understand they will be much more willing to listen to what you have to say.
There you have it. Close your mouth and open your ears. Listen to understand and be better off because of it.
A Quick Summary
- Successful communication requires information to be sent and received
- You can’t make others listening but you can make sure that you do
- Close your mouth and open your ears
- There is a huge amount of power and opportunity in listening compared to flapping your trap