Think about the last time you had a conversation with someone. Now, think about how often throughout that exchange you found yourself talking, waiting to talk again, or talking over the the person you were speaking with. Solid communication skills require being able to speak clearly and effectively but also being able to listen. I mean really listening to what the other person has to say. Think of it as a master communication tip everyone should follow.
Recently I found myself in a situation that reminded me of the importance of listening. It was a conversation with a fellow journalist. As a broadcast journalist much of my work required me to ask questions (and plenty of them), talk (a lot), and listen to my interview subjects. After all, if I failed to listen to their responses how could I tell an accurate, fair and balanced story?
In this recent case I was the one answering questions and assisting a fellow journalist to track down information for a report. I couldn’t help but notice how many times during my attempt to offer information and overviews of the topic that the person on the other end of the line interrupted – repeatedly. It was almost impossible for me to give them the information they had requested as each time I began an explanation, I was cut-off and talked-over. And this is a communications professional! Irritating at worst – frustrating at best.
I share this story to point out a simple technique to improve your communication skills. It’s so easy all you have to do is stay quiet and listen. Listen to whomever is speaking. Listen to not only their words but their message. Listen and understand the meaning of what they are saying to you. In order to better communicate, we must all foster the ability to listen. And wait your turn. So simple.
The art of listening is at the core of the MBTV-produced series, On The Frontline; a hybrid of “Undercover Boss” and “Dirty Jobs.” The program follows Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales as he gets into the thick of daily city activities, working the ‘Frontline’ with his employees – everything from sanitation (street cleaning) to fleet maintenance (changing tires), to code compliance and police.
While producing the latest episode, I realized much of what takes place throughout the exchanges is the City Manager listening. Listening to his staff; their challenges, concerns, ideas, goals, frustrations and aspirations for moving their departments forward. The simple act of getting into the trenches and listening communicates volumes to the team. It says ‘I’m listening. I hear you. And what you have to say is important.’
So the next time you dive into conversation with someone – anyone, do yourself and that other person a favor and LISTEN!