The Art of Listening By Jim Britt

I heard it said that “Communication is easy.” I disagree.

Talking is easy. Communication on the other hand, which is an exchange or communion with another, requires greater skill. A conversation exchanged with another, demands that we listen and speak skillfully not just talk mindlessly. And interacting with fear, anxiety, anger, or frustration communicating can be even more difficult because we’re less skillful communicators when caught up in these types of emotions.

Effective communication is all about, first, receiving information that others are sending to you with as little distortion as possible.

And secondly, conveying your messages to others clearly and effectively. Most messages are oftentimes muddled by an over-anxious sender or misinterpreted by the recipient because they have no clue what you are trying to convey. This can cause tremendous confusion, wasted effort, and missed opportunities.

Remember this: Communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information.

Oftentimes the messages that you actually send do not necessarily reflect what you want to get across, causing a communications breakdown and creating roadblocks that could stand in the way of your relationships and relationship-building opportunities.

Being able to communicate effectively is essential if you want to build a successful network of contacts and solid relationships. To do this, you must understand what your message is, who you are sending it to, and how it will be perceived. You must also weigh-in the circumstances surrounding your message. If, for example, you are trying to get your message across to someone on an elevator ride between a couple floors you are very likely going to communicate your message ineffectively.

So, what’s the secret to learning how to communicate effectively?

Make a great first impression is a good place to start. This is especially critical in business. It takes just a quick glance, a few seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanor, your mannerisms, and even how you are dressed. Think about it. You see a person for the first time and right away you get an initial “feel” for the person. They have a smile and seem friendly. They are well dressed and look professional. They walk with confidence. They look you in the eye. They have a firm handshake. And they seem pleasant when they start to speak. All these things are part of the communication process, and especially the first impression.

With every new encounter, you are evaluated and the person’s impression of you is formed.

These first impressions can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, making those first encounters extremely important for they set the tone for all the relationship-building to follow.

Be yourself and be at ease. If you are feeling uncomfortable and on edge this can make the other person ill at ease and that’s a sure way to create the wrong first impression. If you are calm and confident, the other person will feel more at ease. When you are trying too hard to win the approval of another, they feel your energy and your intention. On the other hand, be careful not to come off too confident so that it feels too much like you are trying to control.

Just remember that people are people and most everyone will respond favorably to you when you are friendly and relaxed and not trying to be someone you’re not.

In each individual’s mind they are asking. “What does this have to do with me?”

They are tuned into this station: W.I.I.F.M. “What’s In It for Me?” “Why should I listen to this person?”

In the mind of your receiver you want them to be thinking “Me too” ‘Yes, I have that problem” “Yes, I feel that way too.” “Yes, I can relate to this person and what they are saying.” “Yes, this makes sense.” Or simply, “This person seems friendly I think I’ll talk with her.”

As an example, if you are in sales making a sales call and you try to overwhelm them with your product before you have established that they have a need, you will lose them. This is the single biggest mistake made by most people in sales. And the reality is that we are ALL in sales. Anytime you open your mouth to speak to someone you are selling your point of view.

Remember this: People are looking for reasons “to listen” to you. And people are looking for reasons “not to listen.”

To communicate effectively just stop and think. What do they need, what problems do they have and how can I help them to solve that problem? This is where questions come in. Questions help you to establish that they have a problem that needs solving in the first place.

Here’s a great rule for communication I learned from experience:

If it is not necessary to say, then it is necessary not to say.

Think about that statement for a moment. “If it is not necessary to say, then it is necessary not to say.”

It simply means to leave out the “stuff” that has no benefit to the person to which you are communicating.

Barriers to effective communications almost always stems from someone offering too much information too fast or information that has no meaning for the receiver. For example, the greatest mistake made is “dumping the whole load” before establishing the need. When in doubt just remember that less is more.

Get good at asking questions and listening to establishing a need.

One of the quickest routes to awkward silence is asking questions that can be simply answered with yes or no. For example, you might ask a stranger you just met in the ski lodge: “Do you ski?” Their response is “Yes.” Where do you go from there?  Or you could ask the question, “How do you like the skiing here?” By asking a question that requires a more detailed answer, the other person has to elaborate and offer as much information as possible. Why ask, “Are you enjoying yourself,” when the question could be phrased, “What do you think of this party?” That can start the communication process off in the right direction.

Be careful not to rattle off a string of questions too fast or try to propose marriage on the first encounter. A conversation should not be an interrogation or make someone feel uncomfortable. The purpose is to get them talking and you listening. Another interesting point that Golub makes has to do with self-worth.  

Listen twice and speak once.

He says that self-worth is synonymous with confidence and regardless of rejection, a person’s self-worth does not change. All too often, people are afraid to take a chance because they fear rejection. Rejection makes a person feel inferior. In reality, rejection does not change one’s self-worth. You are still the same person, as valuable and important as you were before you entered the conversation.

No one can take your self-worth away from you; only you can do that.

Rejection is an illusion until it actually happens. Why spend time worrying about a “what if” situation? Take a chance and keep trying for what you want. It’s only a matter of time before you get it. The only way to learn how to communicate with people and to hone your skills is by practicing. Hanging back in the shadows and playing it safe leads nowhere.

Start Small

Learning how to communicate with people takes time to develop and everyone will advance at their own pace.

Start small; become comfortable with each of these steps one at a time. At its foundation, effective communication starts with confidence and this is the thread that binds everything else together. Each encounter helps to increase your confidence and diversify your experiences. A good place to practice these new people skills is the office or in the store. After it has become easier to speak with peers, try talking to people in higher positions of power, such as managers. In no time, the skills you taught yourself regarding how to communicate with people will become second nature and won’t require any thought at all. Talking to someone like the CEO of a major company will be a breeze.

Nobody ever said learning how to communicate with people would be easy.

For some, mustering the confidence required will be a huge step. This is probably the most difficult part, but once you take that step, the rest will fall into place. Have faith in yourself and know that you are as worthy as the next person. Effective communication is an important skill everyone should know, as it is the key to future success and advancement in practically every aspect of life.

Test Your Social Skills IQ

Communication is the key to social skills, but when communication breaks down, social ineptitude takes on a life of its own. As children we were taught that it’s not OK to blurt out derogatory names just because someone has upset us. We’re not supposed to throw temper tantrums when we can’t have what we want, that sharing is smiled upon while pushing and shoving to be first in line is not.

Rate This Article:

Really take an active interest in what this person is saying, and if it’s a subject you know nothing about, you can use it to your advantage. Even admit that it is not a familiar topic. Would he mind telling you more about it? People love to share what they know, and nothing increases confidence more than sharing a subject close to the heart.

Example: You meet someone at the cocktail lounge in a hotel and you get into a conversation. 

“Where are you from?”

“I live in Halifax Nova Scotia.”

“Really. I’ve never been there. What’s it like?”

Now you are in a conversation. You can keep asking questions and listening.

”What’s the weather like?’

“What’s the population?”

“What do you do for a living” which will start a whole new conversation.

Listening is one of the most important skills you can develop in building your network of business contacts and customers.

How well you listen has a major impact on the quality of your relationships with others. Relationships are the lifeblood of any business.

Why do you want to listen?

Listen to obtain information.

Listen to understand.

Listen for enjoyment.

Listen to learn.

Listen to establish a need.

Listen to help them solve a problem.

Listen so you know what to say and how to say it.

The fact is that most people are not good at all at listening.

Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade, and lead.

The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”.

This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try and understand the total message being sent.

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break. And if your listening habits are as bad as many people’s then there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do! Just be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself constantly that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message.

Learn to start conversations.

But all too often, people are afraid to take a chance and be the first to start a conversation because they fear rejection. Rejection makes a person feel inferior. In reality, rejection is changing one’s self-worth. It’s not about the other person at all.

Here’s the key. No one can take your self-worth away from you; only you can do that.

No one can reject you unless you give them permission to do so. Rejection is an illusion. You may think that you are being rejected when in reality the other person is just having a bad day or is thinking about something else. Why spend time worrying about a “what if” situation? Take a chance and keep trying for what you want. The only way to learn how to communicate with people and to hone your skills is by practicing. Hanging back in the shadows and playing it safe will lead you nowhere.

Each encounter helps to increase your confidence and diversify your experiences. The more experiences you have communicating with others the better you become at it. Try talking with strangers in the supermarket. Better yet just ask them a question and see how long you can keep them talking.

In no time, the skills you taught yourself regarding how to communicate with people will become second nature and won’t require any thought at all. Eventually it will become a breeze.

Jim Britt
No rating results yet

Please rate this Article ...

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Art of Listening By Jim Britt |

Leave a Comment