Effective communications skills and capabilities lie at the heart of any successful business or organization. No matter how good your plans or strategies are, if you fail to communicate them you will not achieve success. Every leader needs to be an accomplished communicator in order to thrive and enjoy real commitment from their people. But the fact is that when it comes to communicating most of us might be good at telling people what we want but all too often we are not good at listening. When we are faced with difficult situations or under stress we frequently hear but fail to listen and there is a huge difference between the two capabilities. In our day-to-day work we are receiving information all the time – through written reports, facts, figures, and in meetings and presentations. Most of the information we receive can of course be interpreted in all manner of ways. We often interpret information with reference to our past experiences and what interests us, so we have a unique perception of what is happening during a presentation or around a meeting table. Ultimately, how we respond to information will depend upon our interpretation of it as we have received it. When we receive information we often filter it based on lots of influences such as past experiences or assumptions we have developed. For example, if I decide that all lawyers cannot be trusted (because of some past negative experience) I may find that I am always negative in any interaction with them. If we extend such behaviours to other functions or areas of activity (e.g. production people never want to help sales) we have a real minefield of communication problems between people. This is exactly what does happen in large organizations – sales argue with marketing, technical people argue with sales and the production department doesn’t get on with marketing, and so it goes on. So these filters and negative judgements all help to distort our ability to listen. This creates bias, confusion and in some instances conflict.
Other factors that limit our capacity for listening include:
These factors frequently mean that we tune out and switch off! So one of the simplest and most powerful ways to improve our influencing and general communications skills is to become a better listener. As with other management skills this is a learnt behaviour and relates to our effectiveness rather than our innate personality: so we can all become better listeners if we practise.