Author: Mike Waddell
In the mid 80′s, while fibre optics was still the new and immature technology I attended a telecommunications conference. Compared to today this was the technological stone-age. After almost 25 years two presentations at that conference stand out in my mind to this day. One was delivered by a Japanese technologist. Unfortunately his English was indistinct and in an auditorium sadly impossible to follow. I am sure his topic was interesting but he was just so much hard work that, along with the rest of the audience, my brain shut down for 40 minutes as frustration and boredom set in. Having said that, his English was far better than my Japanese, so good for him for having a go.
The other presentation was by an American from AT&T as I recall. Allowing for Mr Webster, he passed first base by being understandable to a British-English ear. More than that he passed second base too; he was interesting and engaging. The amazing fact he shared was that, at that time, there was more copper under Manhattan than was still in the ground in Zambia! He illustrated this with amazing photographs of communications cable conduits literally bursting with bundles of copper cables the thickness of a man’s body. I can still see the photograph in my minds-eye.
Engage the Interest of Your Listeners
If there was a competition between these two speakers the American won hands down. Why? He simply engaged the interest of his listeners and then kept us with him. He certainly had effective communications skills as a speaker. Maintaining the energy of our listeners by engaging and feeding their interest is a key to effective communication skill whether it’s one-to-one or one-to-many.
Engaging our listeners interest is the only guarantee of their attention. As Christian leaders, seeking to practice servant leadership, this is a vital step to enabling our listeners to achieve their full potential. So, when it comes to communicating with people are you “Mogadon-man” or do your listeners stay with you?
Taking Responsibility for Your Communications
The servant leader’s attitude that underpins effective communications skills is recognizing that, as the speaker, we must take responsibility for our listeners. Take responsibility to ensure that they understand. It is not enough simply to speak and then pass the buck to them. The fact that we are speaking means that we have a vested interested in them understanding. It’s us that lose out if they don’t understand. The objection “Well I told you” when things have gone awry doesn’t really help much.
What does it look like when we take responsibility?
Partnership: There is a partnership that jointly owns the communication by developing a dialogue
Interest: The listener’s interest is engaged by the way we construct and deliver what we have to say.
Needs: The listener’s needs are addressed. i.e. their important questions are answered
Feedback: There is feedback from the listener that steers what we say and how we say it.
There is a flip side to this of course and that is that listening is important too. Responsible listening is as much an effective communications skill as is responsible speaking. If we recognize that as speaker we must take responsibility to ensure that our listener understands, what can we do to maximize the possibility of understanding? How can we engage and maintain the listener’s interest so that they understand? Assuming that you know what you need to say then:
Don’t Engulf the Listener
It’s all too easy to engulf the listener, saturating them with what we have to say. It’s the “Paul problem” discussed in the Mistakes that Cause One-Sided Conversations article in this series. When we do that we don’t connect with our listener and we fail to build rapport and we lose them.
Speak in shorter segments. Then they can deal with an idea or two at a time. I guess this is somewhat like the problem of speaking through an interpreter. They not only have to translate the language but select alternative phrasing where there is no exact match. They also have to process and the handle idioms of two cultures. So you need to present ideas in a way that they can handle. If you are communicating cross-culturally in a single language this approach will definitely be important. Short segments also provide opportunity for the listener to give you feedback.
Develop “intrigue” to keep their interest by using “cliff hangers”. This will help your listener want to know more. Of course, you then have to follow up with the answer to the hanging question.
Obtaining feedback from the listeners is vital. Unless you get it and take notice of it you will fail to build rapport with them and they with you. Feedback turns a monologue into a dialogue and taking note of the feedback turns dialogue into conversation. Eliciting feedback is a pivotal effective communication skill. There are two primary ways to obtain that feedback.
Questions from the listener help you because they indicate what they have understood and what they need to know. Questions are the listener’s role in the communication. If they are not raising questions you need to stimulate them by asking questions yourself. The goal is to help them absorb what you have said, integrate what they have understood and clarify what they have not understood. In many situations speakers are frightened of questions because of the risks they raise; primarily the risk of looking foolish because you don’t know the answer. If that is the case, take an action to find the answer and get back to them.
Communications Marker Feedback comprises the non-verbal and tonal messages that you receive from the listener and include body language and tone of voice. These cues are available even if the listener offers no questions. We have grown up learning to respond to them and it is important to respond to them now and not ignore them. There are lots of books available that can help you with this point.
Accommodate Learning Styles
The listener’s learning style can play a big role in how well they keep up with and understand our message. We each have a different learning style, which is a description of how we learn best. In a formal class it is possible that my ability as student will be diminished if the teacher presents the lesson in away that works against my learning style. Similar things can happen when we speak to people. In principle both are about conveying information to elicit some response. Everyone has a mix of styles with specific preferences. When you are planning your communication, it is helpful to accommodate as many styles as practically possible.
Address Both The Big Picture And The Detail
Recognizing whether the listeners need detail or the big picture is important; of course in a group you will probably have both. A big picture person who gets only the detail and a detail person who gets only the big picture will both get frustrated with you quite quickly. Providing both the overview and some detail is a good strategy. Obtaining their feedback will then enable you to adjust what you say to meet their needs, providing more big picture or more detail as required.
Apply What You Say To The Listener’s Need
To maximize your engagement with the listener what you say has to apply to them. If it doesn’t then they will shut down and not take in what you have to say. If does apply to them, then your job is to ensure that they understand. This is actually a special part of the feedback loop and may require you to ask questions to identify the information that they need.
“What’s In This Message for me?” (WITM-FM) is the key question that motivates interest. You must answer that question. Often times you will not know the exact answer unless you engage in dialogue with the listeners and that means asking questions.
Things they need to Know: In situations, where the listener must act there may be things that they need to know but you have not told them. Dependent upon their situation you may not know what they need to know unless they tell you.
Stories are a good way of making what you say interesting and addressing the “WIIFM” question. You can use real situations which may relate to similar situations so that the listener can identify with what you have to say. You can also use a made up story to illustrate a point.
How do you do as an effective communicator? Are you the Mogadon Man?
Take a moment and reflect upon the last time you had to convey information to someone, compare yourself to the points discussed above. What do you learn?
Plan your next communication to address what you have discovered.
As listeners, what can we do maximize our ability to absorb information?