Just Listen

Listening in Small BusinessI work with business people of all stripes who want to communicate more clearly and effectively. I help them streamline their writing and deliver presentations that stick. Sometimes clients want “shortcuts” or need solutions NOW. For these people I do my best, but I can’t work miracles! Good communications skills cannot be acquired with a wave of my wand or a snap of your fingers.

However, you can easily absorb some lessons as you go about your daily routine. Every day you have the opportunity to learn about speaking by listening. Earlier this spring the TED Radio Hour on NPR featured an interview with Julian Treasure, a sound expert who says we are “losing our listening.” As someone who preaches that you can’t be a good speaker unless you are a better listener, I was intrigued enough by his interview with host Guy Raz to watch Treasure’s original TED Talk. In it, he describes the ways we have trained our ears for listening: how we recognize our names amid the din of a noisy party, for example, or tune out continuous “background” sound. But, he adds, our listening is also affected by many filters we subconsciously impose on what we hear: culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, intentions.

All in all, listening is a tricky business. And we need to practice doing it more mindfully. Fortunately, Treasure shares some clever exercises for improving our listening–indeed, the title of his TED talk is “5 Ways to Listen Better.” He ends by making a plea for teaching listening to children. Because unless we collectively break this habit of shutting out sound, we are headed toward a totally dysfunctional, disconnected future where we block out the incessant, exhausting noise of everyday life by isolating ourselves under headphones. We need to learn how to listen, because listening is essential to human connection. “Conscious listening always creates understanding,” Treasure observes.

Likewise, if we want to be understood when we speak, we must become better listeners first. We need to reconnect with each other in conversation–and stop performing dueling monologues. I often advise my clients that one way to improve as public speakers (i.e., when they engage in any speech not specifically “private”) is to become better public listeners. This means being less impatient as listeners, exercising critical thinking skills, and not responding reflexively to contextual filters (see above). Then they can achieve a far better connection with the speaker and her/his message. And learn how to recreate that same connection when they are speaking. Only in that mental space is the act of true communication possible.

“Every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully. Connected in space and in time to the physical world around us. Connected to each other.” Treasure is right. And why would we want to live any other way?

As a Communications Artist Ann Timmons (http://www.anntimmons.com) uses her background as an actor, director, and playwright to share unique perspectives on all facets of speaking professionally. Whether you’re the face and voice of your company, or someone who needs to communicate complex ideas, together we’ll discover your presence. And then you’ll be able to connect with your listeners–clearly, dynamically–every time.
Image Source: Wikipedia

Weaving the Safety Net of Trust

 

Communication
Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

Walking the tightrope without a net. That’s what it feels like for so many of us solo practitioners, solopreneurs and small business owners. There is just so much we have to do before we can settle down to getting the job done. We need to pitch, present, propose, negotiate. Eventually, when we are successful at these steps, we get to do what we actually love. “The thing itself” is what interests us. Our vision of it is strong enough push us out on that tightrope every time.

 

But we will never make that vision a reality if we can’t communicate.

As you doubtless already know, the first step is to listen to what prospective clients want. Completely. Give them your undivided attention. But don’t forget the next step: tell them what you understood them to say. This eliminates initial misunderstandings that could set you off on the wrong path. And from a relationship-building standpoint, this step is crucial. People need to be heard. If they are considering hiring you for your expertise, they want to know that you will listen to what they are telling you. And to be sure that what you heard is actually what they said.

So you have heard what they want. Good. But what happens when your expertise tells you that what they want isn’t really what they need? This can be tricky, but again, you have to articulate what it is they have told you, then share how your solution will solve the problem. It may be a slightly different way than they had expected, but if you approach it as a joint effort, rather than telegraphing “I am the expert so I know better,” you will get down to work much sooner. This is something like the “pivot” tactic used in political communication. And this technique is known in improv world as “yes . . . and” (as opposed to “no . . . but,” a counter-productive blocking tactic). Even if you absolutely know from the start that what the clients want will never solve their problem, you need to hear them out. Your willingness (or lack thereof) to engage on this level will tell them a lot about how you will communicate going forward.

In our wildest dreams we will be as successful as (fill in the name of the top practitioner in your field). When we have that stellar reputation for excellence we will be able to ask for–and often get–free rein when we work. But until then we are in the position of asking our clients to trust us, to have faith that ultimately we will give them what they really need. We need to work to establish a bond of trust. And hold onto it. It is never a given. It is a gift, an important connection that we need to reinforce with every interaction. It is our  safety net. So never, ever stop listening!

As a Communications Artist Ann Timmons (http://www.anntimmons.com) uses her background as an actor, director, and playwright to share unique perspectives on all facets of speaking professionally. Whether you’re the face and voice of your company, or someone who needs to communicate complex ideas, together we’ll discover your presence. And then you’ll be able to connect with your listeners–clearly, dynamically–every time.
Enhanced by Zemanta