9 Ways to Help Others Feel Understood

Written by on Saturday May 18, 2013

Last week I spoke in Tampa and was delighted to see a presentation on listening skills by Mark Walters, an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida. Here are some of my takeaways on a topic that doesn’t sound like a high-need area to address but is one where most of us could improve. The good news is that communication skills can be learned.

  • 1. “Authenticity is having to struggle for words”.
    • Most of us want to be seen as experts in our field. Sometimes that can make me feel like I have to know every answer and have a perfect sound-bite quality response every time. “A good conversation is a little messy.”
  • 2. Reflect, don’t deflect emotion.
    • Make sure the other person feels understood first before communicating your point. I know this is hard sometimes; I struggle with this too. It’s easy to get emotionally involved and then retaliate with more emotion.
  • 3. Pause before responding
    • This indicates you’re thinking about what was said and not just planning your response while the other person is still talking. Pausing also helps avoid becoming instantly defensive.
  • 4. Avoid phrases that kill dialogue.
    • When communicating, avoid using ‘of course,’ ‘obviously’ and ‘as everyone knows’. These phrases silence possible responses. Because the point is so ‘obvious’ to the speaker, only a fool would have a question or not understand. This is a sure-fire way to come across as arrogant.
  • 5. Become a student of conversation.
    • Listen more carefully to how other people converse and whether each person is being understood.
  • 6. When writing, make the other person the subject of the sentence more often.
    • For example, instead of saying: “I can tell you that you’d be better off…” simply state “You’d be better off (in my opinion)…”
  • 7. Avoid using big words and jargon.
    • This keeps people at a distance and can come off as aloof. I read an interview recently with best-selling UK author Lee Child (his Jack Reacher novels are quite addictive; I’ve read two in the last week!). He believes that it’s harder to write a popular best seller using language that is easily understood than it is to write high-brow intellectual work.
  • 8. Tread more carefully when using the word ‘we’.
    • For example, “as financial professionals, we believe..” or “We here at ABC Company think..” because this makes the other person feel excluded.
  • 9. Know your speaking style
    • When we speak, we can run a range between authoritarian and egalitarian (collaborative) and we can run a range between warm and cold. This leads to a balancing act between potentially coming across as patronizing, stiff, distant or positively receptive (friendly).>

Author: Matt Anderson, The Referral Authority, Author of Fearless Referrals Copyright 2011


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