clip_image002Recently, I posted a piece on the tremendously important pursuit of consistent, effective communication. To take my point a step further, I subsequently added a piece regarding a concept called background-foreground communication, wherein I described a method that I learned long ago to aid in facilitating clear, undistracted communication. I’d like to take this communication series a bit further by talking about communication from another perspective — the ever-important practice of listening.

A common misnomer about listening is that people fundamentally believe that they listen with their ears. Now, I am surely not arguing that biologically people don’t listen with their ears, mind you. But rather, that listening is a crucial competency that leaders ought to possess that involves far more than just one’s ears. Listening, when done correctly, involves all of the senses. Proof of the matter is that deaf people can listen and in many ways are actually better listeners for not having the ability to hear. So, in short, hearing is NOT listening. True “active listening” involves watching with attentiveness, reflecting without judgment, and appropriately reacting with consideration, and doing all of the above without distraction.

Just as hearing is not listening, looking is not watching. For sure, looking at someone does not indicate a measure of attentiveness to that someone, but rather merely that your gaze is focused in their general direction. Watching someone with attentiveness, on the other hand, involves looking at them, making eye contact, exhibiting appropriate body language and other non-verbal cues that demonstrate attention to and consideration of what is being spoken.

Reflecting upon what someone has said to you prior to responding is also critically important in achieving effective communication. This requires suspending judgment, not to mention, fully listening to what is being spoken without simultaneously attempting to formulate a response in your head … at least until the speaker has concluded any statements. This is not to suggest that you must agree with what has been stated, but at least give the speaker the courtesy of hearing them out fully before jumping to a reply.

Finally, be sure that the response given or reaction (which is completely within our own control) is one that is respectful and considerate, despite whether or not you agree with the statements being offered. To be clear, a response is far more than just what you might say verbally in reply…it also includes facial gestures, body language and other non-verbal gestures. We’ve surely all been there … something is said and we simply roll our eyes, cringe or throw our arms up. And just so I’m up front about things, these gestures, as much as they are funny to think about sometimes and even funnier to witness on occasion, are most definitely not “respectful and considerate” as true, active listening would recommend.

To be a great communicator, one must master both speaking and listening. Don’t ever become complacent with your communication skills, as I can guarantee that each and every one of us will forever be able to improve our respective skills and thereby enhance the effectiveness of how we communicate. And without a doubt, success is strongly correlated to effective communication.

Nina Nets It Out: Communication is a two-sided activity –- the speaker and the listener. To be an effective communicator, it is necessary to master the skills required on both sides. Be sure to review the tips on “10 Tips to Effective & Active Listening Skills” to master the listening side and use the communication approaches I previously wrote about to help out on the speaking side. I know I was amazed at the results when I began using these approaches. Climbing the corporate ladder will undoubtedly demand a solid command of communication skills and make the journey that much easier and faster.