Effective interpersonal communication is the foundation for successful performance and growth in both your career and personal life. Communication skills enable you to better lead, influence and build relationships with others by developing trust, reducing conflict and misunderstanding, and improving productivity.
Through our work in leadership development, talent management, and coaching executives, managers, and employees at dozens of profitable, sustainable companies, we have determined a mix of seven keys to effective communication in the workplace:
- Focus and be clear
- Listen to understand, not to respond
- Value and respect different perspectives
- Identify communication preferences of your audience
- Adapt to non-verbal and behavioral clues
- Address or avoid sensitivities and hot buttons of your audience
- Always be open, honest and accountable
In today’s post, we’ll discuss the first three keys.
First, you must focus and be clear. This key speaks to the notion that you value your own time, and thus you should value the time of others you deal with in the workplace. Get to the point when providing information, while avoiding lengthy, unnecessarily-detailed answers.
You should also remember to stay on message, being absolutely clear with regard to the ideas you need to express, especially within the expressed purpose of the conversation. To this end, you should answer questions directly and provide important information only. Just as the best writers distill thousands of words into the hundreds of words that pack the most punch, you should do the same with how you speak with your managers, colleagues, and reports.
Next, you must listen to understand, not to respond. This concept is pretty difficult for even the smartest among us. To make this happen, you need to apply common sense—listen more than talk. Also, avoid urges to interrupt or object on the fly, without hearing out the other person’s thoughts in their entirety.
This should go without saying, but in order to properly listen, you should be engaged in the conversation. Stop what you’re doing—put away the gadgets (smartphones, TV), minimize the potential for interruptions, and remove physical barriers such as desks, walls, and doors between you and the other person.
As you give the other person more opportunity to speak, be careful to pay attention to not just what is being said, but what is not being said. There are many of us who edit our thoughts quite a bit, never completely sharing what’s on our minds—a good listener can read between the lines and pick up these unspoken thoughts throughout a conversation.
Think through your responses to others after taking proper time to listen. Focus your attention on understanding someone’s message instead of formulating your response. Being unafraid to give proper consideration, not only to what others have to say but also how you express your own thoughts and reactions, garners respect in professional environments. Be patient in the process and remember that many people mistrust quick answers.
You must also value and respect different perspectives. First, you must recognize the value of what others say and their reason and right to say it.
If you’re really seeking to value and respect another person’s perspective, you need to focus on understanding that perspective, not on agreeing or disagreeing with it. Involve that person in even more conversation than you normally would somebody with whom you share much agreement, asking more questions versus making more declarative statements. We’ve found that people tend to normally make statements at a rate eight times the number of questions they ask!
Ultimately, do you understand the other person’s perspective, or what they’re even trying to say? If you’re not sure, simply ask more questions. Remember, your message is not about you or what you may want in a given situation—you want to know what the other party values and why their message is important to them.
In next week’s post, we will cover the four additional keys to effective communication.