Do You Always Understand the Speaker’s Message?
September 14, 2021
Paul B. Thornton
Author, Speaker, and Adjunct Professor
Topicsbusiness leadership, Communication, Curiosity, Leadership, Leadership Development, message, speaker's message, Speaking
On a scale of 1-to-10, how would you rate your ability to listen and understand what the speaker is saying and feeling?
The best leaders strive to be a 10!
You know the benefits of being a good listener? The speaker feels valued. You learn a lot. Communication breakdowns are reduced and mistakes are minimized.
These steps will help you improve.
Give the speaker your full, undivided attention. It’s hard work. You need to overcome two types of distractions.
- External Distractions—cell phones, your computer, items on your desk, and other conversations going on close by.
- Internal Distractions—what’s going on in your head—your to-do list, projects that need to be completed, family issues, and anxieties about the future.
Actions you can take to minimize distractions
- Remove them. Put your cell phone away and move to a quiet location.
- Make eye contact with the speaker. It reminds you to focus, pay attention, and listen.
- Create a word or phrase such as “concentrate,” or “be present” that you can say to yourself. Use it as a reminder to stop the internal chatter and give the speaker your total attention.
- If you’re too distracted at the moment, reschedule the meeting. I need to finish this report by 10:00 a.m., could we meet at 10:15?
Step 2—Understand the Words
Words are imprecise. What ideas is the speaker trying to convey?
Effective communicators use words that are simple and easy to understand. Others use jargon, acronyms, and other concepts that you may not understand.
Some speakers focus on one or two key ideas. Others try to communicate a multitude of ideas in one interaction.
The best communicators provide only relevant details. Over-explainers include every detail they can think of.
Actions that you can take to understand the words
- Ask for definitions and examples—What does HWC stand for? How do you define “strategic intent"? Can you give me an example of a “world-class team”?
- To combat information overload—ask this question, “What is the main thing you want me to remember or do?
- Paraphrase—If I’m hearing you correctly, you asked me to monitor the warehouse inventories and give you updates on Fridays. Is that correct?
- Avoid selective listening. Make sure you listen to all the words, not just the ones that you agree with.
- Only interrupt to ask for clarification. Where did the data come from? How big was the sample size? Is that a fact or an opinion?
Step 3—Understand the Feelings
It’s also important to understand the speaker’s feelings. They are revealed in the person’s delivery, tone of voice, and body language.
Actions that you can take to understand the speaker’s feelings
- Ask questions. How do you feel about this new opportunity?
- Explore interesting aspects of their delivery. You hesitated when you described your boss’s reaction. How do you feel about his support?
- Observe body language. You seem very nervous about making the presentation?
Listening is hard work but it is well worth the effort.
My guiding principle is ABC—Always Be Curious.
Give the speaker your full, undivided attention. Ask questions, probe, and dig until you understand what the person is saying and feeling about a particular idea or issue.
Test your understanding. Restate the essence of the speaker’s message until the speaker confirms that you have it correct.
The most important step—identify one thing that you will start doing today to be a better listener?