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).>