Friday, February 27, 2009

Two Ears and One Mouth

Was at South Piedmont Community College this morning presenting a program for their Leadership Institute. The program was about communications.

I'm sure some of the attendees thought they'd be spending four hours learning how to talk and listen...that's how most people think about communications. But, what they got...I hope, was an understanding that communications for leaders has a whole range of issues at its source.

Issues such as how we think about the concept of leadership, who we've seen and admire as leaders, our energy levels, how we look at the role of work in our lives (if the leadership position is in a work setting), how we deal with conflict, and our behavioral style all have an impact on communications.

We must communicate clearly if we want to have the Perfect Workday or have successful, happy lives. Unfortunately, the only thing we do more without thinking than communicating is breathing. We get a couple of years of guidance about how to speak, a few years of instruction about how to read and write, but almost no guidance or instruction about how to listen. And, as the old saying goes, "God gave you two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk."

Listening is the cheapest concession you can make in a relationship. Listening...active listening...is hard work. It requires focus, energy, and caring about the person with whom you are trying to communicate. It also requires that you don't spend most of your mental energy trying to conjure up what you are going to say in response.

Listening, and then creating a thoughtful response, often means that there will be silence. And that is REALLY hard for some people to deal with. We live in an immediate response world. Waiting is difficult. Try this this weekend: If you are having a serious conversation with someone, tell them up front that you may take a moment to be quiet and consider the best response. Then, SHUT UP. If you stop, stay quiet, and try to think, you'll find that they often keep talking to fill the void. Again, active listening is hard work.

However, the better listeners we are, the more we are able to detect the nuances of communications, understand more clearly the major points, and offer our side of the conversation in a thoughtful way.

Active listening is an outstanding way to show respect and avoid miscommunication.

Have a great weekend!

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