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Find a category of articles on the right that appeals to you. Each category contains a series of articles on that topic. For a complete overview of the topic, read the articles in the order they are listed.

   
 
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Meiss Education Institute

Communication Skills: Becoming an Effective Sender and Receiver
By Rich Meiss

Improving Organizational Results through Effective Communication-   Article 2

Good communication skills are important in any role that involves interacting with people.  The skills are fairly easily learned IF the communicator values other people, and WANTS TO create a win-win situation.  When this attitude is in place, skill building can happen quickly with some focus and practice.

Communication skills are generally divided into two parts:  the skill of sending (talking, writing) and the skill of receiving (listening, reading).  Most of our formal training in communication is spent on the sending aspect (you probably had some “speech” classes, but did you ever have any “listening” classes?), and yet research shows that we spend more of our day on the receiving part of communication.  Prominent 20th century listening researcher Dr. Ralph Nichols discovered that in all of the time we spend communicating, we spend:

            40% listening
            35% talking
            16% reading
            9% writing

Although these numbers may vary somewhat in today’s electronic world, it is probable that listening is still the number one form of communication, so it is instructive to begin our study of communications looking at this very important aspect.  Of course, there is a big difference between hearing and listening.  Hearing is ”the physical ability to accept and transmit sound waves from the eardrum to the brain”.  Listening is “the ability to understand the meaning of that physical transmission of sound waves”.  That means that good listening takes intention as well as attention!  We have to seek to understand as well as to hear!

There are many barriers to good listening.  These barriers include:
            - An inappropriate communication “environment” creates distractions.
            - The sender’s communication “purpose” is different from the receiver’s.
            - The sender’s speaking “style” distracts from the actual message.
            - The speaking “pace” is different from the listening pace (The average person 
              speaks at 150 words per minute, while most people can listen at 500 words per 
              minute, leaving a “gap” of 350 words per minute in which to tune out.)
            - The listener is distracted by other thoughts/important events.
            … and many more.
The following listening skills will minimize or perhaps even eliminate these barriers.

 

Effective Listening Skills

1)      Create an appropriate communication environment.  Find a place to talk that is private, if possible, or at least a place that has minimal distractions.  For very important conversations, it is best to find a “neutral” space – not the office or home of either party.  Make sure phones and email signals are turned off or on “mute” to minimize any interruptions.  If appropriate, put up a sign or communicate to others around that you want some private time with the person.
As we say in our training events, “Tune the world out, and tune the person in.”

2)     Give good eye contact.  In most cultures*, eye contact is the window to the soul.  Looking into the eyes of another person generally indicates interest and attention.  If it uncomfortable to focus on both of the eyes, focus on just one eye or on the bridge of the nose.  Generally, the speaker will look away occasionally, so you can often just stay focused on the speaker without it appearing that you are staring.  If you begin to feel uncomfortable, glance away for just a moment, and then focus back again to the eyes of the speaker.  (*In the Native American culture, eye contact is more of a sign of disrespect, so be sensitive to any cultural differences around eye contact.)

3)     Avoid interrupting the speaker.  Allow the speaker to finish his/her thought.  Depending on the pace of the speaker, this can be especially difficult for those whose personality is more “task oriented” or “impatient”.  They want to finish  other people’s sentences for them.  Mentally remind yourself to “be patient” or “relax” when you want to jump in and start talking.  Give the speaker the chance to work out what he/she is saying, and allow the thought to be completed.

4)     Utilize para-verbal sounds.  It is generally encouraging to a speaker to have the listener comment occasionally with an “OK”, “um-hm”, “I see”, and so forth.  Oftentimes these comments are not even words, but just guttural sounds that indicate interest and understanding.  Remember to match your facial expressions and body language to these sounds so that your listening style is congruent.  (You wouldn’t want to be saying “uh-huh” while at the same time shaking your head no.)

5)     Use appropriate body language.  Remember from the Mehrabian study mentioned in the opening article that body language accounts for 55% of the impact of the communications.  This is as true in listening as it is in speaking.  Nod your head in approval when appropriate.  Use facial expressions that communicate appropriate emotions.  

When someone is sharing a sad or difficult experience, wear a concerned look while gently shaking your head.  If someone is excited or sharing good news, put a big smile on your face and clench a fist or give an OK sign to indicate that you are feeling their happiness and excitement.

6)      Paraphrase the speaker’s thoughts.  Occasionally say back to the person – in your own words – what you thought you heard him/her say.  This is especially important when you are trying to understand a feeling or emotion that is being expressed, as in a sharing or counseling situation.  This allows the speaker to clarify his/her emotions for you.  This is also helpful in clarifying facts, or determining who said what in the situation.

Here are a few additional tips that will usually enhance the quality of listening and communications:
            - Stay neutral unless asked.  Avoid giving advice or criticism.
            - Avoid giving a rebuttal.  Listening is a time for understanding rather than 
              agreeing or disagreeing.
            - Take notes, if appropriate.  And always ask for permission to do so.
            
Finally, try to clarify early on in a conversation the purpose of the communication. Is the speaker attempting to gather or share information, persuade the listener, get a decision, or communicate feelings and emotions?  If you know the purpose of the communication, then it is much easier to determine what listening approach to use.  Each of us has a natural listening approach that we use, which is sometimes effective and sometimes not, depending on the purpose of the communication.

For more information on your natural listening approach, you may enjoy responding to the Personal Listening Profile, available at www.MeissEducation.com.

Effective Communication Skills

1)      Be specific, clear and concise.  Use words that communicate what you mean. If you want something back in two hours, say so rather than “I’d like this ASAP (as soon as possible)”! Avoid any jargon, acronyms or abbreviations that may not be familiar to your listener.  If you need to use these, make sure to define them or spell them out to your listener for clear understanding.  If possible, use as few words as possible to communicate your intent. 

2)     Aim at the present or the future.  Avoid talking about past mistakes, whose fault it was, and why things didn’t turn out differently.  Talk about “next time”, “in the future”, and “here’s what I’d like that to look like”.  

Rather than focusing on what’s wrong and who’s to blame, create accountability and ownership by directing people to the present and the future.  Use words such as “how” and “what” vs. “why” and “who”.  (“What needs to be done” vs. “Why is this not done”, or “How can you get this finished” vs. “Who didn’t complete this.”)

3)     Send congruent messages.  Make sure your words, voice tone and body language are saying the same thing.  When you are communicating a serious or difficult message, wipe the smile off your face and use a voice tone that suggests seriousness.  When you are showing concern, lean in toward the other person, scrunch up your eyebrows and talk in a softer, concerned tone.  Remember that in general, people will believe your body language first, your voice tone second, and your words last.

4)     Avoid negative “trigger” words.  “Always” and “never” are words that often trigger a negative response. Replace these with words that are less accusatory.  “There are times when …“ is a much softer way to point out a behavior that you want to eliminate.  “Joe, there are times when your being late to meetings causes your teammates to respect you less.  Please plan to be on time to our team meetings each week” allows Joe to maintain some dignity while hopefully correcting the problem.  Rather than telling people what you don’t want (“Joe, you shouldn’t be late”), tell them what you want.  Motivate them in a positive direction.

5)     Use “neutral” words to send bad news.  “We are in a very difficult situation” is a phrase that will definitely get the attention of the group, but if you started off by saying “If things don’t change around here, we are going to be in bankruptcy”, you’ve set a tone of negativity and hopelessness.  Although we are not suggesting that you varnish the truth, express truthfulness in a more neutral or specific way.  “Our sales are off 50% over last year” is specific and truthful, and probably a lot more effective than saying “We are in a horrible financial situation.”

6)     Send “I” messages to express feelings and emotions.  Let the listener(s) know that you are taking your share of responsibility for the communication or the situation by using “I” messages.  “I feel frustrated and somewhat helpless when you continually show up late for team meetings” will help Joe understand how he is affecting you, and is probably going to be more effective than saying “You are always late!”  Let the person know that his/her behavior or words (“When you do/say______________”) affects your feelings (“I feel __________”).  Then remind him/her of the behavior or the outcome that you want.

Here are some additional tips that will enhance communications when you are the speaker:
      - Set up an appropriate communication environment with minimal distractions
      - Be prepared, by knowing what you want to say
      - Maintain eye contact at least 2/3 of the time
      - Use body language and facial expressions that support your words
      - Analyze the listener’s body language to determine understanding, and clarify         
       any confusion
      - Ask questions to insure that your message has been received

 

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