Communications must be a two-way street–sending messages and receiving messages–if it is to be effective.
That’s just common sense; but it is too often ignored, as organizations and individuals spend millions of dollars and countless hours annually on sending messages and make little focused effort on improving listening skills.
Managements are so busy unleashing a torrent of communications that they don’t take the time to listen to see if the messages are being received, to say nothing of being understood.
Meanwhile, a lot of lip service is devoted to listening, while many career coaches rank listening as the number one job skill.
We are apt to think we are listening when we are just waiting our turn to speak and concocting responses to what is being said. As a result, our own filters distort 75 to 80 percent of our verbal communications.
Waiting to speak is not necessarily listening.
Most people are poor listeners because they are so busy planning a rebuttal they fail to pick up on the senders’ true message.
Another reason for breakdowns in communications is that listeners’ minds function at a faster speed than speakers can talk.
Listening is not an easy task. Productive listening requires time, patience, energy and focus. It is a skill that must be nurtured and practiced the same as creating and delivering a speech.
In addition to “staying in the moment”, listening skills include: blocking out distractions and interruptions, maintaining eye contact, asking relevant questions and taking notes.
Silence is also a powerful communications tool.
One of the hardest lessons any aggressive and ambitious person needs to master on the career path is that silence can be a powerful tool of communications. The traits required to make it to the top drive one to have strong opinions and to want to express them. However, there are many times when it is better to sit back and let others do the talking.
Think it through. It is not your responsibility to fill every vacuum of silence with noise. Let others speak. They may have something important to say. If they don’t and still speak, they may reveal their foolishness and you will look smarter.
It’s better to have them wonder why you didn’t speak than why you did.
Effective communications skills—sending messages, listening and silence–are an essential for career success. With concentration and patience they can be learned.