When most people think of getting good at communicating in business, they think of coming up with the right things to say, write, or present. OK yes, that’s important—but it’s missing half the picture. As obvious as it may sound when I say that good communication is bi-directional, it’s so easy to forget that, to communicate effectively, we have to listen!
In addition to being a communication coach, I’m also a musician (jazz guitar). When you’re learning to play music, you’re consumed with figuring out what YOU should be playing. You ask yourself: Am I playing the right notes? When do I come in? How long do I hold that note? All fair concerns, but also mostly self-focused and one-directional.
The way to create when you play music is to play while you’re also listening, in which case you ask yourself more questions about other people: Can the audience hear the variations in tone that I’m creating? (Or in improvisational jazz, for example) Is what I’m playing conflicting with what the other musicians are playing or complementing it?
We want others to have a positive opinion of us
I think that we tend to focus on ourselves and what we’re communicating only in the outward direction because we want other people to accept us and have a positive opinion of us: natural desires for most of us. Ironically, the problem is that when we consume ourselves with what WE are doing and saying, we’re missing a valuable opportunity to focus on others—yes, those same others whose opinion we care about!
So what’s the cure? It’s to create the space to not just talk but listen to what others would like to hear and experience from us.
Maybe you should listen to find out what’s important to them
Have you ever talked with someone who, the whole time they’re talking with you, just talk-talk-talks about what’s going on with them. They’ll even say out loud when they reach a logical stopping point: “Let’s see, let’s see, what else can I tell you?” Ugh! It’s tiresome to be on the receiving end of that one-sided speech, of course, but from the standpoint of the person talking, they’re missing an opportunity to listen and learn about what’s important to the other person.
In business, when people don’t feel that you understand them or care about what they think, they’ll (maybe) politely wait you out while secretly wishing that your time with them would go faster so they can get on with what they have to do. On the other hand, if your peers, clients, or leaders feel that you’ve listened to them and, therefore, understand what’s important to them, they’ll tend to be your champions in the cause you’re espousing.
This week: Make a point of noticing how much listening you’re doing at work. Have you asked questions and created space for others to tell you what’s important for them? If you haven’t, you’re missing an opportunity to connect with people and create valuable, bi-directional communication that will help you achieve your goals.
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.