Whether you’re working your way up in the corporate world or ensuring a smooth domestic life for you and your spouse, effective communication and active listening can help you get more out of life.
In fact, one of the most famous self-help books of all-time, Stephen Covey’s "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," lists the principle of seeking to first understand, then to be understood as one of the seven pillars of success.
Improve Your Listening
Becoming a better communicator, therefore, starts with becoming a more empathetic listener. When you proactively listen to someone, give that person your undivided attention and repeat back the main points. The other person feels heard and becomes more apt to approach what you have to say with an open mind when you commit to active listening.
A surprisingly large number of professionals in the corporate world want to give their opinion without taking in any input from the audience. This is a mistake. Instead, you want to actively listen and ask the right questions for clarification while summarizing the other person’s points in a succinct way that doesn’t disrupt their flow of the conversation.
Counselors and sponsors at a Utah drug rehab center, for instance, should ask questions and periodically summarize the patient’s points throughout the recovery process.
On the topic of succinctness, try to distill down what you have to say in as few words as possible to completely convey your point. This shows that you are considerate of the other person’s time, and a distilled-down speech helps the listener take in everything you’re saying without getting distracted.
Whether it’s through email or in-person communication, quickly getting to the point will get you better results with your audience. If you simply make one or two points and incorporate a strong call to action in your work email, for instance, you’re apt to get quick responses from your superiors or coworkers. People feel like they can easily digest and respond to you more easily if your email, speech or call to action is simple and direct.
Create an Empathetic Environment
If you’re an executive in the corporate world, creating an environment in which everyone present at a meeting can express his or her opinions is critical to fostering respectful yet productive communication.
Even if the "brainstorming" portion of a meeting only lasts five to ten minutes, everyone’s time is better spent by creating an environment conducive to relaxed creativity and receptivity.
A business negotiation will also go much more smoothly if both sides are open to compromise and contributing to an empathic environment.
Mind Non-Verbal Cues
Body language and non-verbal cues are also extremely important, yet sometimes underemphasized, ways to effectively get your point across. Look the other person in the eye when you’re speaking to him, but note that staring too long might be intimidating while avoiding eye contact for long periods during the interaction could convey a lack of confidence. As with everything in life, finding a happy medium is your best bet.
Be realistic and culturally-sensitive when you take in the non-verbal cues of the other person, though, and make sure not to interpret one gesture or movement too deeply. Some cultures emphasis face saving and deference to business superiors; non-verbal signals could signify status or face saving in Japanese business culture and simultaneously convey a lack of confidence in American business circles.
Finding ways to lower your stress levels on a day-to-day basis might not make you a more effective communicator in itself, but learning to live with less stress certainly makes it easier to make eye contact, convey a confident vocal tonality and avoid distractions.
Actively listening, keeping an open mind and distilling your message down into as few words as possible will get you the results you’re looking for in your business and personal relationships.