The key to being a great communicator
For a society that relies so heavily on quick and accessible communication, many have lost sight of what makes the best communicators. When many hear communication they think of talking, but communication should lead one to listen. The world is filled with voices trying to be heard, but no ears to listen. In fact, I would dare to say that the best communicators are not always the most eloquent speakers or those with extroverted traits, but rather those who are able to listen intently, process the information, and have the discernment to know when to respond and when to remain silent.
Nothing has given me more practice in listening than marriage. More often than not my wife is not seeking my opinion or my sought-after wisdom to finding an answer; she is looking for someone to take the time to simply listen. The art of listening is an invaluable skill. From the words of one of my favorite poems:
A wise old owl lived in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird? – unknown author
So what does it take to become a good listener? In an article for McKinsey Quarterly, Ferrari writes, "The many great listeners I’ve encountered throughout my career as a surgeon, a corporate executive, and a business consultant have exhibited three kinds of behavior .... By recognizing—and practicing—them, you can begin improving your own listening skills and even those of your organization."
Quickly, from an article from Psychology Today, here are three behavioral traits:
1) Be respectful: The best listeners recognize that they cannot succeed without seeking out information from those around them and they let those people know that they have unique input that is valuable. When you show respect for other people's ideas, they're more likely to reciprocate. They're also more likely to continue to share their ideas, which fosters growth and increases the likelihood of success.
2) Talk less than listen: Ferrari says that he has developed his own variation of the 80/20 rule, which is that his conversation partner should be speaking 80 percent of the time, while he should speak only 20 percent of the time. He also tries to use his 20 percent of the time asking questions rather than trying to have his own say. Although he acknowledges that it's difficult to suppress your urge to speak more than listen, with practice and patience you can learn to control the urge and improve the quality and effectiveness of your dialogues by "weighing in at the right time."
3) Challenge assumptions: In his McKinsey Quarterly article, Ferrari writes, "Good listeners seek to understand—and challenge—the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation." He believes that one of the cornerstones of good listening is that in order to get what you need to know from your conversations and make good decisions, you must be willing to challenge long-held and cherished assumptions. Just because something has always been done in a certain way in the past doesn't mean there isn't an equally good or better way to do it.