An intellectual understanding is not enough: great communicators listen till they feel it. They empathize.
If you want to be a better communicator learn to listen, and more importantly, listen to learn.
As you talk to people, make it a habit to continuously check to confirm that you are understanding them correctly. The more questions you ask, the less tempted you will be to preach or prescribe solutions. How would you feel if your doctor prescribed medication before asking you about your symptoms? The more people talk to you, the more they will feel understood, and the more they will like you.
Here are the ten commandments of good listening:
1. Empty your mind. Try to begin with a blank slate. This will help you stay open to things you don't expect -- one of the most powerful things listening can do is open your mind to new ideas or reveal things that were formerly hidden.
2. Understand the context. Try to figure out what the person is trying to communicate and why. This will help you act in a manner that's appropriate to the context, and ask the right questions.
- Are they just venting or do they want to change something?
- What problem do they want to solve?
- What result do they want?
- Do they want you to do something? If so, what?
3. Don't get distracted. Your mind will have a natural tendency to wander, because we can think faster than people can talk.
4. Use follow trails. A follow trail is a simple question that you can keep asking till you get to the root of something. Just continue to ask the question till you get to the source. You'll be surprised how powerful this one is. Here are some examples of follow trail questions:
5. Use body language. Your physical behavior signals how well you're communicating. The most important signal is your eyes. Make steady eye contact and focus on the person's face. Nodding and leaning forward also signal attention.
6. Ask questions. Like a good detective, the art is in asking the right questions, and asking them well.
7. Take notes. It demonstrates that what the person is saying is important enough for you to write it down. Occasionally, verbally summarize your notes out loud, to show the other person you are hearing and understanding them.
8. Confirm your understanding. As you listen, think about how the person's thoughts would work in practice. play out scenarios in your mind and ask the person to confirm your understanding. For example, ask the person:
- "So if I were to apply this, I would..."
- "So what you are saying is..."
9. Let the person finish before you speak. We listen and process information faster than people can talk -- this can result in reacting or answering before someone is finished speaking -- your mind is racing ahead. Not to mention it's rude. Don't interrupt.
10. Don't judge too quickly. Suppress your own reactions -- remember to maintain that blank slate in your mind. Reserve judgment till the end of the conversation (or even later). If you keep an open mind you will reap the full benefit of the conversation and if you don't, you are limiting its potential.
Next time you communicate -- whether it's with an individual or with agroup -- diagnose before you prescribe. The results will amaze you.
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