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Ways to Communicate Effectively

Stop for a second and consider this question: What kind of person do you enjoy being with?

Do you like the person that intently listens to every word you say, or do you prefer the interrupter and long-winded speaker?

It’s no surprise that most people prefer the listener!

Additionally, a listener is more capable of quickly stabilizing and solving crises and tense conflicts. Listening–really listening –is one of the most productive ways to maximize the success of every conversation, interaction, and relationship.

Here is an example:

talkingstickMany years ago Steve’s family started using a Talking Stick during his family discussions, a concept originally used by Native American Tribes in the Pacific Northwest.

As family discussions often became energetic and occasionally heated, they found their family was quick to speak and very slow to listen – often getting louder in an attempt to be heard.

The Talking Stick was their solution.

It was passed from one person to another. The person with the Talking Stick was allowed to speak, while everyone else remained silent.

Everyone had a chance to hold the stick until everyone had been heard.

The Talking Stick helped train Steve’s family to listen to another person who is speaking. The result was a more productive family discussion in which they reached understanding more quickly and with far less hurt feelings.

Whether with family, friends, or coworkers, the Talking Stick is a great training tool to help you and those around you listen better. Try it and see for yourself!

Tips for better communication:

1. Be Quick to Listen: The following list is what I call “noise,” things that interfere with true listening during a conversation:

  • Preparing what you’re going to say.
  • Mentally arguing with the speaker.
  • Getting impatient because the speaker is taking too long.
  • Getting distracted by things outside of the conversation.

It requires effort to avoid this “noise” and truly listen – but it is absolutely worth it.

2. Be Slow to Wrath: Wrath is the enemy of listening. It is the underlying cause of a range of poor choices and harmful actions. Ambrose Bierce explained the importance of holding the tongue when we feel angry when he said: “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” That includes emails, phone calls, and text messages. If you feel angry, delay the conversation until you are calmer.

Weekly Action:

1. List a few key things you will do to listen better this week. For example, it might be that you won’t interrupt others while they’re speaking, repeating back to check for understanding, or simply making eye contact with the person speaking to you. Share what you will do this week with a co-worker, family member, or friend.

2. Wait until you are calm to speak. This week develop an intense focus on avoiding the temptation to speak while angry. Remember, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you ever regret.”

3. Read pages 125 – 145 in Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of High Successful Leaders for additional ideas and thoughts on how to improve communication personally and throughout your organization.

Listen Up!

One of the best ways to connect with another person is to be quick to listen–to really listen.

Once you’ve heard what the other person is saying, resist the impulse to get angry or impatient; instead, place yourself in his or her position and do as much as you can to understand. Use all your senses to really listen. Look into their eyes and observe their body language. Withold your own opinion until you fully understand what the other person is really trying to say. You’ll draw people to you like a magnet!

lincolnIn speaking of President Abraham Lincoln, Union officer William E. Doster recalled: “In conversation, he was a patient, attentive listener, looking for the opinion of others rather than hazarding his own, and trying to view a matter in all of its phases before coming to a conclusion.”

Lincoln drew people to him because they felt like he understood them. He may not have agreed with them, but he listened and they felt like he fully understood where they were coming from – this gave him the great ability to be an influential leader.


Rate it on a scale from 1 to 10

It’s helpful to have good tools for successful communication. One way to improve communication was taught to us by a friend early in our marriage. The tool is to ask how strongly you feel about something on a scale of 1 to 10. A 10 means you are really excited or passionate! A 1, on the other hand, means no way.

For example, throw out the question, “How much do you want to go to a movie?” If one person says 7 and another says 1, you’ve got valuable information to use in moving toward a decision which works well for both parties.

If you really care, this process actually allows you to show that you care!

Weekly Action:

1. During a conversation this week, listen and truly understand what the other person is trying to say. Remember to withhold your own opinions until you really understand the other person.

2. With a family member or spouse, try the 1 to 10 scale test. At first, some may think your kidding and won’t do it. Be patient and show them you’re sincere, you really want to know how they feel.

3. Read pages 125 – 145 in Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of High Successful Leaders for additional ideas and thoughts on how to improve communication personally and throughout your organization.


Is this worth getting angry over?

Do you ever feel like you could be a better communicator? Have you ever seen a person that is having trouble getting their point across? Have you ever heard phrases, such as:

“I’m sure she understood what I meant,”
“I assumed that…”
“I’m sure it was obvious to him.”
“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Miscommunication is a common problem and affects all of us to some degree or another. Improving your communication skills–by being quick to listen, slow to wrath, and quick to understand–will help you to avoid arguments, achieve your goals, and get more of out of life.

Here is provided a practical and fun way to help you improve your listening skills.

Why Steve is glad he listened!

A lot of miscommunication is rooted in poor listening skills. Many people want to say much, but listen little. Some years ago, Steve was running with his wife when he asked her how she was doing. She replied evenly, but unconvincingly, “fine.”

Normally, he would have said “great,” and moved on to the next subject. However, he followed up and said, “That didn’t sound like a very convincing ‘fine.'”

She replied that she was experiencing one of the most discouraging times of her life. He considered giving her advice but encouraged her to speak instead. After 20 minutes of talking she said, “thanks for just listening!”

That was all it took! She resolved the issue herself and it never came up again. What helped was simply having somebody there to listen.

To practice your listening skills, take 5 minutes to engage in “intensive listening.” The objective is to listen to someone without commenting or speaking yourself. The only exception is when asking questions in order to keep the conversation going. You may find it more difficult than you expect!

As you strive to genuinely listen in conversations, you will become a more effective communicator.

Is it really worth getting angry over?

Better listening can often help you be “slow to wrath.” Too many people get unjustifiably upset because they fail to obtain all the details. A man named Charles Penrose once loaned furniture from his home to the church where he served for 10 years.

As the church grew it bought its own furniture and Penrose subsequently removed his household furniture from the church. Some members hastily accused him of stealing church property. He was deeply offended and hurt by the false judgments.

How would this situation have changed if those members asked Penrose questions about his actions instead of hastily accusing him?

To improve skills regarding this principle, refrain from speaking before gathering all relevant information. In other words, be “quick to listen and slow to wrath.”

Weekly Action:

1. Practice intensive listening. Spend 5 minutes listening to someone speak without interrupting, speaking, or commenting–except to ask questions in order to keep the conversation moving.

2. Post Penrose’s poem in a visible place in your home or workplace.

School thy feelings, O my brother;
Train thy warm, impulsive soul.
Do not its emotions smother,
But let wisdom’s voice control.
School thy feelings; there is power
In the cool, collected mind.
Passion shatters reason’s tower,
Makes the clearest vision blind.

It is likely that you’ll spend more time using your listening skills than about any other kind of skill. And like other skills, listening takes practice.

Warring Teens Turned Friends

What you want to say
What you actually say.
What you think you say.
What is heard.
What the person thinks they heard.
What that person truly understands.

Between what is wanted to be said and what is truly understood, there are at least five places communication can breakdown—and sometimes it can happen before the words even leave your mouth!

No wonder miscommunication is so common. In fact, 95% of divorces are attributed, in part, to communication problems. In American workplaces, 39% of employees say lack of team communication is the number one contributor to unproductivity. A person that takes time to truly understand can avoid many instances of miscommunication.

In addition, a person that is an effective communicator is likely to enjoy healthier relationships and be a more productive employee.

Questions – the #1 tool to help you truly understand

Too often, people feel as though they need to give swift comments in order to demonstrate their “expertise” and ability. People that ask informed, educated questions are the ones who appear more knowledgeable. Some of the best leaders always ask several questions prior to giving their opinion.

Here is an example. Rather than saying this: “Turning in projects late is not acceptable, this is your last chance!” Try this: “I see turning in projects seems to have become a challenge, is there something we can do to help so that we can maintain high levels of trust between us?

And rather than saying this: “Don’t get so upset over it, it’s not that hard to fix,” try this: “This seems very important to you and I think we can fix it, what is required to fix this problem?”

Remember, the goal is to be quick to understand.

Warring Teens turned Friends

teensIn the early 90’s, Los Angeles experienced widespread and violent race driven riots. Erin Gruwell was a new English teacher assigned to racially diverse “at-risk” high school students, also known as “unteachables.”

Most of the students belonged to violent gangs who were essentially at war with each other. In school, they would self-segregate into racial groups. One student said, “I don’t even know how this war started. It’s just two sides that tripped each other way back. Who cares about the history behind it? I am my father’s daughter and I will protect my own, no matter what.”

Unlike past teachers, Erin Gruwell sought to genuinely understand where the students were coming from. After intercepting a racist note in class, she changed the theme of her curriculum to tolerance. Realizing that only one of her students had heard of the Nazi holocaust, she spent a semester teaching students about the impact of racial hatred and intolerance.

By making the effort to genuinely understand the student’s different and difficult lives, she was able to connect with them and make a permanent impact for good. Many of the students risked their own lives to abandon their gangs. For the first time, many became friends with people not of their own race. All of the students graduated from High School and many went on to obtain college degrees.

This remarkable change can be attributed to Gruwell and the students taking time to genuinely understand one another.

Weekly Action:

1. Ask at least one question per conversation. Strive to fully understand situations by obtaining all pertinent facts and information before speaking yourself.

2. Click here and observe the faces of students in this short video clip. Watch the students’ faces during this activity as they begin to more fully understand their classmates (and also as Gruwell begins to understand them more fully too). This clip is from “Freedom Writers.”