Communication is something we do 24/7. Whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not, that hackneyed phrase from an era gone by “first impressions are easy to make and hard to break” rings true today. It is more important than ever to make an effort each workday to improve communication.
During the following initial encounters, communication occurs:
- When we meet someone – Did we make eye contact? Did we smile? Did we shake her hand and was it a firm handshake? Was our attire appropriate for the occasion?
- When we open our mouths – Did we engage the other person? Did we start with a friendly comment or jump right into business?
- When we listen – Did we show interest? Did we really hear what the other party said, or were we thinking of our intelligent or witty response? Did we engage with applicable questions. . . about the other person?
Research and stories abound on effective communication. Here are three actionable, and easy-to-implement steps you can take right now to improve communication.
Tip #1 – Listen and Ask More, Talk Less.
The majority of executives achieve their positions by being smarter, working harder, learning the organization’s culture, and triumphing in each successive position. Often, this entails developing and communicating great ideas. Thus, most are accustomed to talking more and listening/asking less. Try turning that on its head: listen and ask more – talk less. But, how?
The Harvard Business Review seems to chide those of us who believe “listening is not talking while others are speaking.” On the contrary, among many vital points, listening means active listening, and the HBR states that active listening means:
- Asking questions that promote discovery and insight.
- Building the other persons self-esteem by creating a safe environment.
- Providing feedback by making good suggestions.
Tip #2 – Reframe the standard “Do You Have any Questions” to “What Questions do You Have?”
Through that simple rephrasing the listener moves from “does she think I’m an idiot?” or, “I must be the only one who doesn’t understand.” To “oh, it’s expected I will ask a question?” “It’s safe to ask.”
As a facilitator, one of the warm-up exercises I use involves the proverbial “quick and dirty” teamwork assignment (with the goal “to win”) by following specific steps. After enumerating the steps verbally, and repeating them a second time, I then ask “what questions do you have?” Someone always asks a question – either one that was already articulated, or a related question. Reframing the standard “do you have any questions,” to “what questions do you have,” works every time.
Tip#3 – Check for Understanding.
In addition to repeating back, David Meier’s The Accelerated Learning Handbook discusses thinking back, teaching back, playing back, and reporting back. Each method allows the listeners to take in the information and integrate it into their knowledge bank, which allows for owning and embracing the information – by making it their own.
Story: Boss Bethany gave several instructions in quick succession to Ryan Receptionist as she walked out the door: “type up this letter, use my signature stamp, mail it FedEx with return receipt requested, and make sure it goes out by 5:00. Do you have any questions?” Ryan was new on the job, and needed to impress Bethany: he wanted to shine. Ryan wasn’t sure he got it all and didn’t want to appear “dumb,” so he responded, “no ma’am, I got it all.”
In fact, Ryan hadn’t gotten it all. He neglected to get the return receipt requested detail. When discovered, Bethany was beyond upset.
Bethany could have checked for understanding: “Ryan, I’m in a hurry, and rattled off several instructions. I’m not sure I even got them all. Would you mind telling me what you heard? That way, I’ll know that I was complete.” After Ryan repeated the instructions, leaving out the return receipt requested, Bethany could have said “oh, and I’d like you to send it with a return receipt requested.” NOTE: no need to add “you weren’t listening,” or “you didn’t understand.” Those phrases should be banished, and the tips and stories that go along with them will be featured in the follow-on post.
To Recap: Three Steps You Can Take Right Now to Improve Communication On the Job:
- Tip #1 – Listen and Ask More, Talk Less.
- Tip #2 – Reframe the standard “Do You Have any Questions” to “What Questions do You Have?
- Tip#3 – Check for Understanding.