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§ November 4th, 2010 § Filed under communication, marketing, small business, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § 1 Comment

“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”- Sue Patton Thoele

Over the past ten months, I have written about all sorts of problems and issues in communication. This month’s topic is the most important communication skill anyone can develop – listening. In fact, I found so many quotations about listening, it was hard to choose, so I’m going to use a few.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

We are a population of non-listeners. Even those who are moderately skilled at listening have to work at it. How often have you “listened” to someone while planning what your response will be? How often has your mind strayed? How often have you paid more attention to your surroundings than to the person in front of you?

Here is an exercise to increase your listening skills. The next time your spouse, child, friend or coworker starts talking, resist the temptation to interrupt. Respond with an appropriate nod or shake of your head, or murmur “Hmm” or “Oh.” Let the person complete his or her thoughts. When he or she takes a breath, look thoughtful and count to ten before responding to make sure the person is finished. If the person does not speak again in those ten seconds, carry on the conversation as usual. If the person starts to talk again, stay quiet. In the next pause, count to ten again. I know this will feel awkward at first, but try it. If the person you are talking to notices a difference, tell him or her that you are improving your listening skills.

“If you spend more time asking appropriate questions rather than giving answers or opinions, your listening skills will increase” – Brian Koslow

Listening well is a skill that can be learned. Like any other skill, improvement takes practice. Learning to ask questions that help you to understand what the speaker means will improve your listening skills, but will also help create rapport with the speaker. Your questions let the speaker know that you value what he or she has said, that you seek to understand his or her point. In doing the above “counting to ten” exercise, when the person has stopped talking, ask some clarifying questions. These questions might start with phrases like

  • “It appears as if…”
  • “You feel…”
  • “It seems like…”
  • “As I understand it, you sound…”
  • “If I hear you correctly, you’d like…”

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation” – Chinese Proverbs

Creating that rapport and letting the speaker know that you are paying attention is the first step toward true communication. It is also a first step toward agreement. If you can truly understand what the other person is thinking, you may have a chance to give him or her insight into your viewpoint.

When we live in such a divided country, it is critical that we understand what others are saying. On this post-election day, I’ll leave you with this one.

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” – Kenneth A. Wells

Try these exercises at your Thanksgiving Day table. It might make the whole day more enjoyable. Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s What You Don’t Say

§ October 5th, 2010 § Filed under communication, small business § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

”The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” –Peter F. Drucker

The last few months I have talked to you about communication. There is one area that we have not discussed. Nonverbal communication is probably one of the most important aspects of communication. We use it for a number of reasons – to add emphasis or clarity, to accompany,  to contradict, or to substitute for the verbal message. The people who interact with us use the clues we transmit to interpret our meaning.

Nonverbal communication can include any information not in words that a speaker uses that might be interpreted by the listener. We normally think of facial expressions and gestures.  But the parts of our communication that do not include words can entail so much more, including eye contact, volume, pitch, amount of personal space, posture, inflection, and even the sounds we make (such as uh, um, hmm, referred to as paralanguage.)

65% of the message is nonverbal

Some researchers report that around 65 percent of the meaning of a message is conveyed nonverbally. Others rank nonverbal closer to 93 percent.  Even at the lower estimate, it is obvious that nonverbal communication is an integral part of our daily communication and without it, meaning can be lost.

I discovered this past weekend that nonverbal communication also serves an important task for memory. I attended my 40th high school reunion. I have a number of friends from those years who I am still close to, and I worked on the planning committee so I had been in contact with others over the last few months. But as the events started on Thursday, I was seeing some people I had not seen in over 40 years.

My task was to work on a PowerPoint presentation that ran continuously throughout the main event. The presentation was primarily a set of individual photos from our senior yearbook. We asked our classmates to send current photos in and I created a slide for each one that transitioned from the senior class photo to the current photo. I had seen what most of these nearly 60 year olds now looked like before I greeted them at the events.

There were a few, however, who had not sent their current photos in, and I found that the ensuing four decades had erased my memory and had created sufficient change in most people that I was unable to identify them. I noticed I wasn’t the only one. Throughout the events, you would hear people ask, “Who is that?”

Nonverbal is memorable

Once introduced, I could usually see the 18 year old I had known in the older face. But the real identifying information came from the nonverbal part of our interactions. The gestures, the tone of voice, the facial expressions, all played a key part in helping me remember my classmates.

One classmate has always had a very dry sense of humor. The deadpan inflection in his voice instantly reminded me of sitting in front of him in English class. One woman has the most piercing blue eyes and she stares intently when she is listening. She has not lost that ability to make people feel that she is paying total attention to what they have to say. Another always had a smile for everyone he met. That smile is still there. Another has always had wonderful posture. In spite of the years, she would still be a model for my mother’s warning to stand up straight.  It was a remarkable experience to revisit these old friends, but without the nonverbal cues, I’m afraid I would not have recognized many of my classmates.

Apparently, the nonverbal part of our message implants in our memories as much as a first kiss, a winning basketball game, or a particularly difficult teacher. I’m particularly glad I have these memories, and thankful to my classmates for the examples.

If these memories last 40 years, imagine how much nonverbal communication affects the people you interact with on a daily basis. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure your unspoken messages are coming across clearly and produce positive memories?

Pay Attention!

§ September 1st, 2010 § Filed under communication, marketing, small business, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention. – Jim Rohn

I visited my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson during August. The trip to Carterville, Illinois, where they live, takes me approximately 16 hours each way, so I spend a good portion of four days on the road. I like road trips.  The time away from the computer eases the neck and shoulder pain, and I am able to clear my head. The drive also provides some interesting revelations about communication, especially between strangers.

When I am on the road alone for eight solid hours, I tend to require some sort of human interaction. I cannot tell you how many times I stop to get gas, a beverage, or a meal, and can hardly tell that I exist. Customer service, as we all recognize, has decreased substantially over the last few years. Even in small towns that used to be famous for friendly people, the folks behind the counters seem now to be angry or depressed, barely making eye contact unless I ask how they are doing or do something else to bring them out of their shells.

When I am approached by someone who does not fit the mold of an automaton, I am delighted, probably more than the situation would indicate. The occasion is so rare, though, that I have no choice but to be encouraged and energized by the interaction. And trust me, after being on highways in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, I need to be energized.

One such situation happened to me in Missouri. I had been on the road about two hours and pulled over for breakfast at a McDonald’s. The place was busy and crowded, and a woman behind the counter was apologizing for the delay to a customer. She turned to me and said, “I’ll be right with you.” She finished serving the waiting customer, putting an extra small order of fries into his bag. “That’s to thank you for your patience.”

She took my order and while I was waiting near the counter, an elderly woman came up and put her arm around my shoulder.  She pointed to the server and said, “That woman right there is the best server in the area. She always has a smile and always cares about her customers.”

“I can see that,” I responded, smiling at the server. I explained that I had just left my grandson and so appreciated friendly faces. The server beamed.

When my food came out, she added a Spiderman figure (from one of the Happy Meals) to my bag, saying, “That’s for your grandson.”

That very short interaction kept me smiling and alert for a long time as I made my way down IH 55.

Sometimes we can make such a difference in people’s lives with a tiny amount of effort. This woman went above and beyond, but even a smile and a friendly greeting that sounds genuine can make a person’s day brighter. Paying attention is the springboard to all effective communication, and is indeed a gift we can offer to everyone we meet.

Are you paying attention to the people you meet?

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