Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Funky to Fabulous: 9 Tips To Be A Better Communicator

The bizarre exchange I had last night with my new hair wrangler highlighted how poorly American's listen to one another. Kelly and I chatted as she flat ironed my rebellious curly hair into the sleek submission that matches my book cover. (Audiences seem think I am the cousin of the author if I don't have straight hair...go figure.)

"So, your daughter is in high school? What's she interested in?" I asked.

"He married his assistant. The one he was having an affair with, now they are traveling everywhere together." she replied.

Nope. I am not making it up. That is a direct quote.

I asked her about her daughter not about the ex-husband that she had divorced ten years ago. What a perfect illustration of how many of us don't listen to one another. No wonder so many of our relationships are tangled up in misunderstandings.

Want to have a better day- fast? Listen up. One of the best ways to replenish yourself in the midst of a stressful situation (particularly if you are a woman) is through communication and connection. You can go from feeling funky to fabulous by actively engaging in listening. Paying attention to what you are hearing is a magnificent way to be a better communicator. Why? Because it demonstrates that you value the person with whom you are speaking.

In my coaching practice, I continually see that enhancing listening skills can help you whether you are leading a team of 1,000 or just trying to have a better relationship with that person sitting across from you drinking coffee.

1. Don't Let The Words Distract You

Numerous studies show that less than half of what is communicated is through spoken words. Some studies give words even less weight on the communication scale. Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D. conducted some of the most influential studies on the importance for the nonverbal components of communication. His landmark report rated 7% importance for words, 38% for tone and 55% for and body language for their effectiveness. Whether you dispute or agree with his percentages, they illustrate that you miss a great deal of content if you listen to words alone.

HOW someone says something is far more important than WHAT they say. Listen for infections, signs and coughs. These are unconscious body signals that 'highlight' a statement. They tell you that what was just said was important. For example if someone says, "I love working on that project." and then coughs or sighs it is likely that there is a part of them that doesn't believe the statement.

2. Oh, What A Difference A But Makes

Become a "but" watcher and you'll be dazzled at how much better your perception becomes. Pay attention to the word "but" in any sentence. It tells you, the listener, that everything said before the "but" might not be the truth. "I love my new position, but the hours drive me insane." The bigger truth in that sentence is that the speaker is drowning under their workload.

3. Don't Skip The End

Pay particular attention to what someone says at the end of a sentence. "I'd like to put together a presentation, except I don't know how." Often people make a preamble of what they think the listener would like you hear. Many save the most honest part of a statement for the end of a sentence.

4. Ask Is Not A Four Letter Word

Just because you speak the same language...don't assume you understand another person. The message sent is often not the message received. Masterful listeners ask, ask, ask. Any sales executive knows that the person asking the questions is the person in control of the conversation. An easy way to become an expert listener is to verify that your perception of what was said was what the speaker meant.

5. The "Should, Can't, Have To" Crystal Ball.

Each one of these words conveys a negative belief or perceived assessment of a situation. Watch the statement that follows "Should", "Can't, and "Have To." The listener is telling you that they really don't want to do what they are saying. Watch these words closely and folks around you will think you are plugged into the psychic hot line.

6. Yes, No...No Way

If you are asking a "Yes, No" question you are not giving your listener the room to communicate with depth. Why bother interacting if you don't want real information? We have gotten into the habit of speaking in sound bites. Power up your listening by adding more open-ended questions. (Questions that require something other than a yes or no answer.)

"What can I do to be a better _____ friend, partner, neighbor?"

(Add your own favorite here)

Use this courageous open-ended question to transform just about any situation or relationship.

7. Men Lay The Bricks and Women Toss The Salad

Do you feel misunderstood by the opposite sex? One of the reasons that we drive each other bonkers is that we expect that other gender to communicate the way we do. They don't. The Today Show just asked me to share some tips on the difference in male/female communication. Men tend to speak in succinct logical progression. Women mix it up. Here's an easy visual for gender communication styles.

Man Speak = Laying Bricks

Woman Speak = Tossing Salad.

I will be going into this more deeply in future posts.

8. Don't Throw A Brick In The Salad

Interrupting a speaker is a key signpost of lousy listening. Wait least four seconds after the person finishes speaking before you respond. This will help train you not to cut off the speaker until they are finished with an idea. Ladies, don't disturb a man laying bricks. Not interrupting men is key since they have a more linear communication style than women.

9. Don't Listen With Your Ears.

The University of Santa Monica has a revolutionary program of Spiritual Psychology. One of the skills they teach is Heart Centered Listening. Imagine that your heart had ears. If you listen with your heart you will hear the depth of the message any person is trying to convey.

So, close your mouth, open your heart and find out what that other astonishing human being has to share with you. It may surprise you.

No comments: