Many people think of communications as telling people something. Of needing to get a message across.
But even when your objective is to inform, to pass comment, to relay progress or status, it’s important to listen to your audience.
Listen to them before you communicate to understand how they best like to receive communications.
Listen to them after you communicate to understand how the message was received and if it was understood as intended.
You see, if you are using the wrong methods to communicate, your message might not be received as you intended, if at all. It might be mis-interpreted or taken out of context. If your audience is anxious about change, your message about this great new change you are introducing could be the last thing they want to hear about, even if it is actually positive to them.
You need to understand where you audience is and how they are thinking so that you can frame your communications in a way that will be better received.
Habit no.5 from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then be understood”. As Stephen says in his book, we are taught how to read and write and learn how to speak from an early age, but nobody teaches us how to listen.
These principles apply to all communications. Whether broadcast, face to face, over the phone or Skype, through e-mail or an exchange of instant messages, it involves interaction.
For your part, what is your objective in that conversation. It might be to receive information. Typically though, your objective will be to get across your point of view, your message. And to have that message understood.
If both parties have that same objective, it will be like both of you trying to push open a swing door from opposite sides. Without understanding the other person’s objective you’ll both be pushing against each other and the door won’t move. Neither of you will achieve your objective.
If one party is resistant, they will be blocking you from pushing the door. Whilst they will achieve their objective of not hearing, your message will not be understood.
Don’t turn the conversation into an arm wrestle. Take the time to understand what the other side is saying, or what their perspective is, to engage with them, their thought process. Then the conversation can develop meaningfully for both sides. You can learn to work together and open that door.
If you understand the other person’s message, position etc. You can tune your own participation to achieve your own objective.
You may not agree with their point of view. You might not persuade them to your way of thinking. But you will have a better understanding of why not, and may actually modify your own position as a result. In any case you will have more chance of persuading them to your view than by ignoring, deliberately or otherwise, what they say.
Think back to the last such discussion you had. Did you find yourself spending more time formulating your next response than actually listening, and understanding, what they were saying?
Use your ears to listen and not just to hear. Listen to understand so that you can reflect and respond in the light of this new information. Your responses will be more effective and accepted for doing so. As the message in the image says, use your ears more than your mouth if you want your communications to be truly effective.