By Whit Mitchell
It is estimated that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. Just imagine what you could “hear” if you were actively “listening” and watching for all of the nonverbal clues!
Effective communication is in large part about mastering the art of listening, but when are we ever taught how to effectively listen? It’s not a class that is offered in school. I bet that no one has ever taken a course on listening.
The most common reason that communication breaks down is that we have not learned the art of listening.
Think about the different behavioral styles of the people you work with. The different ways they behave are equal to the different ways they communicate. Once we learn to appreciate and understand different behavioral styles we can maximize communication. The key is considering how we can adapt our own behavior to enhance communication.
There are four ways that people listen:
Pretend listening. This is when someone is talking, but the other person is thinking about something else entirely. Maybe it’s the next meeting they have to attend, the text they just got from their friend, or whether they remembered to send off a proposal.
Fix-it listening. This is when one person is speaking and the other person is listening only to fix the problem. In this situation, they are quick to offer suggestions and ways to fix it, instead of discerning whether the person is looking for empathy or simply to feel heard.
Autobiographical listening. This is when the listener breaks in as soon as the story is finished, only to share a similar experience they have had. They’re not truly listening; they’re hijacking the conversation.
Empathetic listening. This is listening to understand, truly paying attention to the person’s words and body language, and trying to discern the full meaning of what they are saying.
We’ve all heard the adage, “Seek first to understand before being understood.” But why are so few of us practicing this?
People are usually moving so quickly in their communication that they are formulating a reply while the other person is talking, instead of fully listening. If we were all better listeners, communication breakdowns would occur less and less frequently.
Ineffective communication causes plenty of problems at work. It creates tensions between people, misunderstandings and assumptions. Team dynamics and efficiency suffer. Companies see an increase in errors and coinciding expenses, so profitability goes down. Communication is so crucial that at the end of the day it impacts the bottom line, relationships, teams and effectiveness.
Good communication is just the opposite. It gains all these things back. Improving communication really begins with simple steps. Here are a few things you can do at work to improve communication:
- Seek first to understand before being understood. Truly listen to understand, without letting your personal agenda or opinion cloud your concentration.
- If you have to choose between an in-person meeting, or a meeting over the phone, choose face to face. This way you can observe the nonverbal communication as well.
- Summarize bullet points at the end of a meeting and get agreement on was what was said and decided during the conversation. • Seek feedback from others on how you communicate, specifically getting feedback from people who are different from you. Ask them, “How well am I communicating?”
- Learn how to adapt your communication style to someone else’s listening style—whether it’s a client, employee or a leader.
DISC assessments tell us a lot about communication styles. Here are a few insights:
Someone who scores as a High D will be fast acting, quick to respond, often ready-fire-aim, a quick decision maker, demanding, moving full-steam ahead
The High I communication style is enthusiastic, convincing, outgoing, connecting, talkative (sometimes too talkative), not great at listening, and not good with details
A person with a High S score is patient, logical, deliberate, loyal, slow to respond to demands, good at processing communication, hard to read, stable, empathetic
And finally, a High C is focused on quality, detailed, systematic, analytical, critical of self, blunt and cold at times, be careful critiquing them because they rarely feel wrong
If you would like to learn more about your personal communication style, as well as those on your team, feel free to contact us. We offer one-day communication workshops and DISC assessments to help your team decode communication!