If You Want to be a Better Communicator Just Shut-up
If you're a business leader and want to be a better communicator, learn to shut-up more often.
I know it doesn't seem to make sense. How can anyone be a better communicator by saying less? After all, isn't communication all about talking to people?
Many business leaders I work with need to learn that there's a time to speak and there are always times to listen.
Why Silence is Golden
We see communication in different forms every day. Whether it’s somebody speaking to co-workers in an office, a TV advertisement, or somebody telling the world about their weekend on Facebook, these are all forms of communication.
Business leaders need to understand they can be much more effective communicators if they do more listening. Good listeners are generally good communicators. Speaking is only one part of communication. Somebody could speak 24 hours a day, but if there was nobody listening there would be very poor communication.
Most people want to speak. They want to express thoughts, views and opinions and also tell stories. They want others to listen. As a speaker and trainer, I know how good it feels to be able to tell a story and have somebody enjoy and learn from it. I also know how frustrating it can be when I have a story to tell and people aren’t paying attention, or don’t want to listen.
When you listen to somebody speak, put yourself in their position. If you were the one speaking, wouldn’t you want them to listen and give you their undivided attention? Why not do the same thing when you’re the one who is doing the listening?
Good Listeners Are Good Communicators
When I work with business leaders on their communication skills, I often need to get them to understand they can gain more friends and influence people by NOT talking. That’s difficult for them because they’re trained to make decisions and see them implemented properly and need to tell people what to do and why they’ve made those decisions.
As leaders they’ll always have that right, but they also need to understand the more they can stop talking and listen to what others have to say, the more people will allow them to make the final decision and follow their lead.
The same rules apply for business leaders as everyone else. Just because you’re the boss, it doesn’t mean you can do all the talking. People will respect what you have to say more if you respect what they have to say and the best way to do that is by listening to them.
Here's How to be an Active Listener
There are different levels of listening. Leaders need to set the stage to listen by inviting others to speak. Ask an open ended question such as “What do you think”?. You can also make it more of a statement like “I’d like to hear your opinion.”
In both cases you're giving someone else the stage. You’ve made it clear that you want them to speak and you’re prepared to listen.
After you do this, make sure you do listen. There’s nothing worse than telling somebody you want their opinion and then you look away, check the time and see if you’ve got any emails. Look the person in the eye as they begin speaking and let them speak until they’re finished. This means no interruptions, or filling in the end of their sentences.
Body language is also important. Open yourself up the other person, lean forward a little if you can and concentrate on what they’re saying. You can’t do two things at once, so stop fretting about the other work you have to get done and listen to the person who’s speaking. Don’t forget, you asked them what their opinion was.
Just Because You Listen Doesn't Mean You Have to Agree
One thing leaders need to keep clear though is that there is a difference between listening and agreement. Just because you listen to somebody’s opinion doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. When it comes to the workplace this generally leads to employees who say of the boss “He doesn’t listen to us – he does what he wants”!
Just because you listen to the opinions of employees, as the leader you still have the right to make the final decision. Make it clear to employees that you’re there to listen to their opinions because you value what they have to say, but as the leader of the team you’ll have to make a decision to move things forward.
There will be times you’ll agree with what employees have to say and when that happens they’ll feel empowered because they’ll feel you acted on what they had to say. You may have made the same decision if you didn’t listen, but with human nature being what it is, they’ll see it as a victory.
There will also be times you’ll disappoint people with your decisions. That’s when it’s important to communicate even better and let people know you took everyone’s perspectives and opinions into account and made what you feel is the best decision for the organization. Thank everyone for their input, regardless of what they had to say.
The bottom line is, decisions that are reached after everyone has been given the chance to make their feelings known and express their opinions, are usually better and certainly have more support from employees. They may not like the decision, but they’ll be more inclined to support it and move forward because conversations took place and you listened to what they had to say.
That wouldn’t have been possible if the leader didn’t shut-up and listen.