If you’re alive and breathing, you probably know the frustration that comes from ineffective communication. I don’t believe it’s possible to overestimate the importance of developing and using good communication skills. Think about it…
What happens when there is poor communication at work? Studies reveal a long list of consequences that are likely already obvious to you: loss of revenue, distrust among teams, decreased employee motivation, increased turnover, lack of resilience in times of change, and on and on.
What happens when there is poor communication in personal relationships? You probably know many of these, too: resentment, issues of trust, disconnection, misunderstanding, and decreased confidence in the relationship, to name just a few.
Throughout February, I’m going to lay out some ideas and strategies focused on communication skills. Maybe you’ll find something helpful, and maybe you’ll see a few things you can lovingly and respectfully pass on to others. (wink!)
First up is the communication skill I believe is the most important: Listening.
Yep. Not saying anything at all.
Listening is how you learn when to speak and when not to speak, how to speak so others will receive your message, and why communicating a particular message might (or might not) be important to others involved. Of course, you’ll also broaden your perspective by deeply listening to someone else’s.
I exercise two reminders when I know I need to do less talking and more listening:
THINK THAT YOU MIGHT BE WRONG. and
W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Talking?)
I’ll explain a bit more about both.
For better and certainly for worse in New Orleans, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches created a clean slate in so many ways. Some used the clean slate for nefarious and self-serving purposes that I won’t get into here. To maintain my spirits and support my neighbors, I chose to focus on the beautiful indications of community rebirth during that rebuilding time.
I especially appreciated the sunflower seeds, which people sewed to rejuvenate the contaminated soil, and the professional and amateur art that sprung up among the debris. One such artistic expression was a sign that read, “THINK THAT YOU MIGHT BE WRONG,” painted boldly and (not coincidentally) in black and white, hung high on utility poles around the city. Every time I saw one of the signs, I paused, grinned, and remembered that, contrary to what I wanted to believe, I did not have all the answers. My perspective was not the only - or even the most important - perspective to consider in a situation. It inspired me to listen to others and their stories. It opened my eyes to a New Orleans I had not known before that time. I hope it made me a better servant leader, then, now, and in the future.
I don’t know if the signs had that effect on others, but I have never forgotten them. The message still gets me to consider another view, to stop, listen, and consider another’s solution before I speak or act.
A similar message came to me much more recently, in the form of an acronym I often mention in my presentations: W.A.I.T., which stands for “Why Am I Talking?”
Do you ever have those times when you find that your jaw actually hurts from having done too much talking? I do, more often than I care to admit! It especially happens when I’m in a situation where others have deemed me an “expert” or particularly knowledgeable about a subject. With that kind of permission granted, I tend to think it is a license to go on and on about the topic, pontificating, advising, and even directing. (If you have ever been the recipient of that sort of ramble from me, just know that I’m working on it!) When I notice that I’ve been doing too much talking, it is a clear message that I would do better to W.A.I.T. in the future. When I remember W.A.I.T., I stop talking, I take a breath, and I LISTEN.
Listening sure makes for a richer and more constructive conversation.
I become a little wiser from listening long enough to learn another way.
Which of these reminders resonates for you?
Is there another reminder you can exercise to help you practice listening?
I would love to add yours to my own practice, so send me a message.