Want to be a better communicator? Stop talking

In a “selfie” age of digital media sharing (and over-sharing) made simple, where shorter messages aren’t always sweeter, the art of communication lost in on-the-go interaction is listening.

Our culture promotes multitasking like it’s a superpower when, in fact, it’s been proven to be not only distracting, but sometimes perilous. Technology isn’t entirely to blame, however. Social platforms and apps that encourage constant chatter and personal promotion just enable the innate tendency to talk more than listen.

Even when communication devices are silenced, our minds can naturally wander during face-to-face conversation. Attention can be divided between anticipating what we want to say next and drifting thoughts unrelated to the discussion at hand.

We’re conditioned to measure our contributions to dialogue in words rather than in moments of quiet focus on the speaker. We’re prone to interrupting so we can be first to claim an idea or prove that we are subject matter experts.

In the process, we miss the chance to learn from others and discover the opportunities that rise from concentrated listening. For communication to truly be effective in our professional and personal lives, everyone must not only feel heard but also understood.

Talk less, listen more

Talking less and listening more to clients, coworkers, suppliers and peers is the first step to better business relationships — and a better business. But being a good listener means more than waiting your turn to respond. It requires confirmation that you’re processing and reacting to what’s being communicated.

Pay attention to visual cues. Body language and eye contact can say more than words. Read between the lines; people don’t always say what they mean. Listen for what’s implied.

When it’s your turn to reply, demonstrate that you understand what you heard or read by paraphrasing it back to the other party. This shows engagement and sincerity in being fully present.

The chance for miscommunication decreases if you practice mirroring the messages delivered throughout the exchange. For example, “I understand that what you mean is your company needs better service from our reps in order to keep your business.” This summarizing technique also helps improve conversation recall after a meeting.

Questions equal engagement

Beyond the mastery of good listening is the craft of asking questions. Often, we’re so focused on our own agenda that we overlook gaining additional information about the wants and needs of the other party. Be inquisitive and willing to follow where a conversation leads. Sometimes it’s the sidebar discussions that unearth the greatest potential for a new product, service or process.

Asking questions does more than gather feedback. It expresses genuine interest in understanding what’s important to others, and that’s the foundation of any successful partnership. Without that knowledge, prospects for new business are bound to get missed.

Lastly, listening is affirmed in remembering. Show you care with thoughtful follow-up and by delivering on commitments.

Few things put a relationship more at risk than lacking awareness of everything good communication comprises. Do what’s safest — stop, look and listen.