Communication skills are obviously vitally important for all of us in any context, but they're especially important for those wanting to be great managers and/or leaders, and they're especially important during these current, difficult times. Just as obviously, communication is a two-way process and involves listening just as much (if not more) as it involves talking.
Many people, however, fail to perform this (that is, the listening) part of the communication process effectively, either because they forget to do it at all, or they view it as a primarily passive activity. But when conducted properly and effectively, listening should be approached as one would approach any other activity. Remember to listen next time you're communicating; and implement the following strategies next time you're listening as part of your attempts to communicate more effectively and notice the significant benefits that can be realised.
1. Prepare for your involvement in the interaction by ensuring you've turned off or blocked out any potential distractions (phones, email alerts etc).
2. Don't interrupt, finish other people's sentences, or draw conclusions before the other person has finished what they have to say.
3. Treat the other person, and their opinions, with respect (you don't have to agree with them, but they do have a right to their opinion).
4. Actively encourage the other person to express their views by letting them know you're genuinely interested (this can be achieved by responding with a genuine "ah ha" or a nod at regular intervals).
5. Display to the other person the fact that you're listening by, at regular and appropriate moments, briefly summarising their opinions and/or reflecting on what they're saying or feeling. Ideally, use the other person's words and language as much as possible. This can also provide a way of checking whether you've understood the other person or not and help avoid continuing the conversation based on misinterpretations.
6. If you're not sure you understand the other person, then don't be afraid to check in with them.
7. Listen not just with your ears but also with your eyes and body (for example, maintain steady eye contact and nod, or engage in other appropriate behaviours).
Practicing these strategies does NOT mean you have to agree with everything the other person is saying. Rather it means doing all you can to understand what they're saying so you can then acknowledge what's important to them, and subsequently decide how best to respond.
Active listening has several benefits. First, it enables people to listen attentively to others. Second, it avoids misunderstandings. Third, it tends to engage and open people up, making it easier for them to say more. If both parties do this, the chances of being able to develop a solution become much greater.
The Fisherman vs. The Business Person. Who is Alive!
A stressed businessperson took a short vacation to a small Mexican coastal village. Unable to sleep he walked the pier.
A small boat with just one fisherman had docked and inside the boat were several large tuna. "How long did it take you to catch them?" he asked.
"Only a little while" the Mexican replied.
"Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" he asked.
"I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends," the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.
"But .... What do you do with the rest of your time?" The Mexican looked up and smiled"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife and stroll into the village, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos".
The Businessperson laughed "Sir I am a Harvard MBA and can help you. You should fish more, and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat. In no time you could have several boats with the increase haul. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Then instead of selling your catch to the middleman, you could sell directly to the consumers. You could control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal village and move to New York to run your expanding empire".
The Mexican fisherman asked "But, senor, how long will all this take?"
"15- 20 years, 25 tops" said the businessperson.
"But what then senor?"
The businessperson laughed and said "That's the best part, when the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions".
"Millions, senor? Then what?"
"Then you could retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos..."
My lessons are
1. Never lose sight of what it truly important to you, your business or career is designed to support your life. If you do not master it, it will master you!
2. Is your business or career heading in the right direction in regards to your life purpose?