We usually think communication is about what we or others say, but ultimately it’s about what we or others hear!

Amazingly, we listen best at around the age of three.  As small children, we mimic and copy what those around us say.  At that age our minds are relatively uncluttered and receptive, and it is only as we get older, more opinionated and with more distractions that our ability to listen deteriorates.  Skilful listeners focus on the speaker, and do not allow themselves to be distracted.

Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist, has said that, unsurprisingly, listening is becoming increasingly difficult in a world filled with digital distractions and one in which we regularly compromise speed for meaning.

Of course we all have our frantically busy moments but we all want to be better leaders, friends, colleagues, parents and spouses and we can be by learning to listen to those we care about.  Some years ago my teenage son said to me in a very memorable moment, “Mum I know that you love me because you listen to me!”

The International Listening Association has published guidelines to help practice and achieve deep listening.  These are some of their recommendations …

  1. Assume a proper physical posture that says “I am open to listen” by
  • Squarely facing the speaker
  • Adopting an open posture, no folded arms
  • Leaning slightly towards the speaker
  • Remembering that eye contact is of great importance
  • Relaxing yourself as you keep silent and focus on the speaker
  1. Limit distractions – put all mobile devices away so you can give the speaker your full attention.
  2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – ask yourself “how would I feel if I was in their position?”

Give plenty of room for the speaker to talk and explain so they feel that they have been heard, whatever the ensuing discussion.

  1. Forget your own agenda… Ask questions; get a picture of what they are thinking and feeling.

It takes courage to listen, to lay down our own thoughts, opinions and agendas to give room for someone else, but the results are worth it.  We will then be able to give a wise and considered response instead of an ignorant one.

 

“It doesn’t matter whether you are in the business of delivering products or services – either way, your success depends heavily on communication. When things go wrong, you can almost always trace the problem to a breakdown in communication. And when things go right, it’s usually great communicators who helped create the successful results. It’s a necessary skill in every aspect of business, social and family life.

How you communicate will determine if you lead, command respect, earn trust and are well liked. Poor communicators will suffer from low self-esteem and frustration.”

This quote from Kevin Duam is so true. Becoming a great communicator is not just about handling big crowds or large audiences but it is in the everyday scenarios of life, in the seemingly insignificant one to one interactions. The great news is that these skills most certainly can be learnt and developed.

 

People with good social skills earn more money!

 Recent research documented by the Harvard Business Review has shown that “People who have higher social skills, as measured by the survey, earn more money … than those with poor social skills. There seems to be a positive return to social skills in the labour market, according to the data, and the return is relatively greater when people are in jobs that require more interaction with others.”

The soft skills of good inter-personal communication and effective teamwork; getting on with your colleagues and connecting well with clients are extremely important. Much time, effort and training are put into hard skills but what good is a lawyer if he can’t effectively communicate with his clients … what good is a manager if she can’t speak with some emotional intelligence to her employees … what good is a leader who is unable to envision his team.

How we effectively communicate and connect with others could be the sole reason for success or failure in a project, place of employment or promotion opportunity.

 

The phrase ‘Finding your voice’ resonates with so many of us because it is about freedom of expression to be all that we have been created to be. From the moment a new little person is born into the world we listen for the first sign of life – a cry. The newborn baby comes out of the safety of her mother’s womb, takes in air, opens her mouth and emits a sound that lets us know that she has arrived safely in this world.   The child continues to express herself through crying and noises until learning to form sounds and words and sentences, so developing the ability to express herself in a more mature and effective way.

I remember, as a child, wanting, no, needing to release my voice with full force and vigour as I had done as a baby with no restraints of what was polite or socially acceptable so … would stand under the railway bridge close to our home, and, as the train went over, would let out a long, well-supported (by then I knew how to effectively use my diaphragm) shooooooooout! This vocal release eased tension, frustration and somehow helped me again to connect with my innermost being. Singing can be a wonderfully health promoting pastime also.

Dr Peter Calafiura, an American psychiatrist, agrees that yelling can have a positive mental influence. “[Yelling] might trigger some endorphins, a natural high,” he says. “They might feel calm and it might even be a little addictive. It’s really similar to a runner’s high. They’re getting the same effect in a different way.”

Sometimes, we need to shout, shout and let it all out …! My only word of advice would be to do it somewhere where you are not going to distress or alarm someone else and I am certainly not advocating giving way to venting and yelling at another human being! There is plenty of evidence that yelling in anger is seriously detrimental to one’s health.

William Wilberforce

In Western terms it was William Wilberforce, the 19th century champion for the abolition of the slave-trade, who coined the phrase and terminology “manners”, encouraging considerate behaviour towards others.  In a purely social context, we generally prefer spending time with people with pleasant social habits rather than poor ones.  Nobody likes to sit in a restaurant with the person at the adjacent table picking his or her nose.

On the nose front, however, there are cultural differences as my mother-in-law found out as she travelled in a taxi in Indonesia years ago.  She was chastised by the driver who exclaimed that it was the height of disgusting behaviour to blow your nose into a small piece of cotton and then put it back in your pocket – he then proceeded to blow his nose straight out of the taxi window onto the street!

Enough of noses … Manners and courtesy, of course, also relate greatly to what we say; the words we use and how we say them.  We have all experienced the lie that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.  It is a great question to consider what sort of verbal culture we are creating in our workplaces and homes.  We expect our employees to speak to us and their colleagues and clients with politeness and warmth so we indeed need to treat them with the same considerateness.

I read recently about  ‘Mindful Communication’ where readers of the Huffington Post were encouraged to really consider what they were about to say before they said it,  ie. “Is what I am about to say to this person how I would like to be spoken to?”  If we are not sure then even writing it down and rephrasing the communication could save unnecessary offence, difficulty and upset.

We can be careful, as good communicators, that the words we are choosing to use are creating a positive environment around us, our colleagues and employees and so make for a happier workplace. Much has been said about the dangers of being misunderstood by poorly thought-through texts and emails, but this continues to be something for excellent leaders and communicators to think about with regards to our verbal comms.

 

The Voice!  We hear a lot about Voice these days particularly with regards to the singing voice.  We love to see the buttons pressed, the chairs swing round and the thrilled look on a contestant’s face as they are recognised as potentially having a voice with star quality.

However, Voice is a lot more than just sounding melodious or hitting high notes – as admirable and as practised as all that is.  Voice is about influence, it is also about passion.  Certainly, in some contexts, we can affect and influence others by our actions alone but, nine times out of ten, it is our words  and how we use them – persuasively, kindly, analytically, reasonably, encouragingly or harshly … that brings influence to bear.  We think of the evocative speeches of Martin Luther King Jnr, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Emmeline Pankhurst, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, Hitler, Lenin, the list goes on … men and women with a Voice and the ability to influence others, some for much good and some for great evil.

We live in a world where it is important to consider how we are using our voices to bring a positive influence in our worlds of families, friends, and colleagues.