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We are thinking about communication today as we prepare for a workshop in 2 weeks time.  We often talk about talking and the importance of getting out points across. But when we are communicating its really important that we listen. Learning to listen can be an obvious skill but not easy one. Often when we have other things on our mind we forget to listen.

When you listen actively you pay attention to what is being said and also how it is said.

Here’s 10 tips for effective communication.

1. Create a comfortable meeting atmosphere

Ensure physical comfort: a good chair and a quiet corner work wonders.  The simple offer a cup of coffee or a (soft) drink will reinforce this.

2. Using your body to pay attention

Try to sit back and pay full attention to the other person.  Do not start rearranging your papers or answering the phone.  Give your full attention and show your attentiveness by using your body.  Look also at the body-language of the other person.  How do they behave?  Are they comfortable, tense, agitated, or vivacious?

3.  Use your eyes

‘Listen’ also with your eyes.  Look at the person when they are talking.  Look at their movements.  Literally look the person in the eyes when they are talking.

4. Show interest

Now and then repeat what is being said to you.  Give a summary.  Use it to verify that you understand the other person, e.g. ‘Let’s see, you’re saying that this change will seriously affect your career prospects?’.

5. Ask open-ended questions

It often takes time to make a point or to explain what really needs to be said.  Talking about emotions takes even more time.  Do not force people into answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions.  Offer them the chance of developing their answer.  Open-ended questions require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Use them to give someone the opportunity to tell you what they have on their minds.

6. Listen to feelings

A sentence not only transmits actual information, but the way it is said also shows something about the way a person is feeling.  Pay attention to these – often not explicitly expressed – feelings.  Try to hear not only the content but also the way the message is expressed.  Try during the conversation to check if you are on the right track, e.g. ‘I have a feeling you’re quite excited about what is about to happen.  Is that right?’

7. Listen to language

When somebody is talking to you, listen to the words and standard expressions they use.  A technical expert, for example, will have a different vocabulary from you internal auditor.  Somebody working on an assembly-line will use different words from those used by a computer expert.  Try to detect these specific words and expressions and use them in return to show that you speak their language.

8. Give feedback

Occasionally repeat, clarify and confirm what you hear.  Make sure you understand the content and the feeling of the message somebody is trying to tell you.  Give summaries, repeat sentences and highlight keywords.  The other person will not only feel more relaxed if you do so buy also more willing to enter into a discussion because they know that you understand them.

9. Do not take the lead

It is easy to get carried away by the discussion, and before you know it you are leading the conversation.  Afterwards you will often have the impression that the talk was a waste of your time.  So will the other person.  Be aware of the fact that you are making up 50% of the conversation.  Guide and confirm, but avoid telling people what you already know, while they still have to discover and experience it.

10. Behave naturally

Probably one of the most difficult things is to behave normally while trying to listen actively.  You also show feelings, and use certain expressions or phrases with different people.  We all have a delicate preference to talk with some people and not with others.  Try to be yourself as much as you can.  When you can listen actively, so can the other person.  Being ourselves is the most natural and comfortable behaviour we know.