Talking to people is often a lot more complex than it sounds. While most of us can talk to nearly anyone, talking to people effectively, using strategic interpersonal communications tools, takes study and preparation. It’s surprising how often we fail to really communicate with other people. Acquiring interpersonal communication skills and knowledge with help improve communications with co-workers, constituencies, and members of your own family.
Practice the habit of really focusing on an individual when they talk to you. Stop moving. Square your shoulders to the person. Look them in the eye. Give them all your attention and focus. Not only are you more likely to hear the words they are saying, but you will send signals to the speaker that you are in fact listening, engaged, and interested in what they have to say.
Listening and hearing are really two separate skills. You can listen to a lot of talk, but you may not actually hear what is being said to you. Focused hearing means turning off your silent mental comments and reactions while the speaker is speaking. You need to be in hearing mode, not “I’m-thinking-of what-I’m-feeling-while-you-are-talking” mode. You can’t hear and talk to yourself at the same time.
If you feel the need to remember something that has just been said to you, rather than making a mental note--and missing information—put your finger up, and ask the speaker to pause “for just a second while I write something down about what you just said that was very important to me.” This will enforce a speaker’s feeling that you really are listening. You can also use this tactic to cut off or slow down a compulsive talker.
When someone is telling you something of importance to them that requires your reaction or consent, it helps to be sure you really understand what they are feeling, perceiving, or asking you to do. Check what you heard with what they said. Say, “Now, let me be sure I understand you. You said...” If you’ve made a mistake, the speaker can correct you before you commit to an bad answer.
Balancing the Conversation
Once you’ve listened to the speaker, you can usually answer with your information or reactions. If the other person tries to interrupt you too hastily, raise your hand up, palm facing the other person, and say calmly, “I want to hear your reaction. But please let me finish my last thought first.” Wrap up what you had to say in one or two more sentences, and invite the other person to interject. Cut them off gently, and provide more, new information, and then hand the “floor” back to them. Be as generous as you can with speaking time, even if you disagree with the speaker’s position.
Learn the common nonverbal signals all humans employ to communicate emotions while speaking or listening. Researchers agree that when a person is not telling the truth, they tend to cast their eyes up and to the left. When a person is remembering an event easily and truthfully, they cast their eyes up and to the right or look straight ahead. When a person is having trouble recalling something or is unsure they are correct, they will cast their eyes down and to the right. When they are in total disagreement with you, they will listen and speak with their eyes cast down and to the left. These nonverbal "tells" are related to right and left brain functions.
The Power Of Touch
Reaching out and touching someone while they, or you, are speaking helps “sell” an idea or anchor a point. While it’s not always appropriate to touch other people in conversation, when it is appropriate, it can be very powerful. Many people will be able to remember and connect with something you said at that moment just a few seconds after you reached out and touched them on the hand, arm, or shoulder.
- "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"; Stephen R. Covey; 1989
- "How to Get a Smart Mouth: The Power of Using Your Words Wisely"; Robin Chaddock; 2008
- "Inter-comm: A simple guide to effective interpersonal communication"; Barbara McEachern; 2001