communicating to others – some basic rules
There are a number of effective communications processes that can be
practised without too much difficulty. These processes can help us overcome the
obstacles caused by different perceptions and poor listening – they help us to
stay ‘on the same wavelength’ as the person we are dealing with.
Stop talking – you can’t
listen while you are talking. It’s very easy to get carried away by our own
thoughts so try to pause at frequent intervals and give the other person a
chance to react. Some people never invite a response from the person they are
talking to and then express surprise when people switch off from them. So think
about shutting up and asking a few more questions.
listener an overview or summary of what you want
to say before launching
into detail. This allows the other person the chance to put into context what
you are saying.
Put yourself in their shoes – empathize with
the other person
when someone is trying to
explain something put yourself in their position. Understand and see what they
are REALLY trying to communicate. The ability to empathize is critical when
dealing with difficult or emotional situations.
If you want
to speak, use body language to get attention,
raise the palm of your hand and
say “Can I comment on that?” and pause before commenting. This gives
the other person the opportunity to pause and switch their attention to you
before you speak.
Ask more questions – when you don’t
understand what is being said or when you need clarification of a point. This
clearly indicates that you are listening as well. However, avoid asking
questions that either embarrasses people or illustrates their lack of knowledge
unless you feel it is absolutely necessary to defend yourself. Tactics such as
these often cause hostility or resentment and so lead to a breakdown of
listening too quickly – avoid
give them time to finish
speaking before launching in yourself.
Concentrate on what the person
is really saying – not what you think they are saying. We need to
actively focus our attention on their words and feelings.
Look at the other person – watch their
face, mouth, eyes and body language. Observing someone’s body language can help
us understand how they feel about what they are saying.
Mirroring or reflecting back
their body language in a sensitive manner will help you to show that you are
listening and trying to develop a rapport. But don’t simply mimic their
behaviour as this might provoke a very different response.
what the other person has said at key intervals
– this helps us to clarify our understanding and
avoid any potential misunderstandings.
Leave any emotional baggage
behind – if we can, we need to try to push our emotions, fears or problems
outside the meeting room. Emotional factors often prevent us from listening
effectively. But at other times recognize that we may well need to discuss
people’s feelings in order to get to the real issues.
Control your anger – try not to get
angry at what is being said. Whilst anger can be a positive force it can often
prevent us from actively listening and developing a full understanding of what
is being said. If you do feel strongly about an issue, recognize your feelings
but try to isolate them and control them during the discussion.
Remove distractions – put down any
papers or pencils you have in your hands as they can cause distractions when
communicating. There is a risk we may start pointing!
Focus on the critical points – concentrate on
the important ideas and not the detailed points. Of course detail is important,
but it is often not as important as the critical points being made in a
discussion. Getting agreement or understanding of the big issues is often the
breakthrough in discussions. So examine the detail but try to use it to
subsequently prove, support or define the main thrust of what is being said or
Don’t begin by stating that you
disagree – people will only hear this negative stance and
the strategy often provokes an unreceptive response from others. Instead we
need to explain our position first and then add why we might find it necessary
to disagree with a colleague.
Share responsibility for
effective communications – only part of the responsibility
for communication lies with the person speaking; as a listener we have an
equally important role. Work hard at understanding what is being said and if
you don’t, ask for clarification.
Evaluate the facts and evidence – as you listen,
try to identify not only the significance of the facts and evidence but also
their relevance to the discussion.
React to ideas, not to people – don’t allow
your reactions to the person speaking to influence your interpretation of what
they are saying. Remember someone else’s ideas or opinions may be valid even if
you don’t like the person or the way they look.
Use the speaking and listening
differential – we can all listen faster than we can talk. By
using this differential to our advantage we can really stay focused and concentrate
on what has been said. Our speech rate is 100 to 150 words per minute; our
ability to listen and think is up to 250 to 500 words per minute.
Listen to how something is said – we frequently
concentrate so hard on what is said that we miss the importance of the
emotional reactions and attitudes being voiced in someone’s speech. In certain
cases the attitudes and emotions surrounding a situation may be more important
than the words being spoken.
Listen for what is not said – sometimes we
can learn just as much by determining what the other person has not said as by
what they have said. But in doing this we need to be aware of the dangers of
selective interpretation, so we need to listen incredibly hard not just for
the facts but also the feelings and if possible the underlying values being
Don’t antagonize the other
person – we can cause someone else to conceal their ideas, emotions or
attitudes by antagonizing them. This might be achieved by arguing, criticizing
or not asking questions. So we have to be aware of the effect we are having on
the other person.
Listen for the real person – one of the best
ways of finding out about a person is to listen to them talk. By listening to
someone talk we can begin to discover what they like and dislike, what their
motivations are, what their values are and what makes them tick.
Avoid jumping to assumptions – the old adage
states that assumptions can make an ASS out of U and ME. Assumptions can be
extremely dangerous so don’t assume other people use words the same way you do,
‘they didn’t say what they meant, but you understand what they meant’. Don’t
assume that they are avoiding looking you in the eye because they are telling a
lie; that they are trying to embarrass you by looking you in the eye; that they
are lying because they have interpreted the facts differently than you have, or
that they are angry because they are enthusiastic in presenting their views.
Assumptions like these may turn out to be true, but more often they just get in
the way of clear understanding.
Avoid stereotyping the other person –
too often we try to box
a person to fit everything they
say into what makes sense to us. They are a ‘compromiser’ or ‘difficult
person’. Therefore, our perceptions of what they say or mean are all shaded by
whether we like or dislike people and their general approaches. At times, it
helps in understanding people to know their values and motivations, but we all
have the capacity to be unpredictable and to not fit into convenient
stereotypes, so beware.
Recognize your own prejudices – try to be aware
of your own feelings towards other people and allow for these prejudices.
Avoid quick judgments – wait until you
have established all the facts before making any judgments on a person or
Identify the influencing style
being used – listen for the influencing style being used by
the speaker: logic, emotion, authority, aggression.