The Other (More Important) Half Of Communication

Years ago, I was covering a St. Louis-based CEO. My assignment was to write a short profile and get his keys to success. After an interview, we stopped at an employee’s desk.

“Hey, do you have the proposal ready for this afternoon?” the CEO asks.

“I was scheduling a lunch with the Kansas City guys tomorrow, but they may have a conflict,” says the employee.

“It’s important that the proposal gets out by the end of the day,” says the CEO, nodding.

“Barbecue is probably a good option, but I think that the whole Kansas City versus St. Louis thing might be a thing, you know?” says the employee.

If you turned the sound off, the interaction resembled a conversation. But a better description would be parallel monologues. Neither of these men listened to the other. They just said what was in their heads in concert.

It is easy to paint these two as communicatively inept but, each day, we have conversations like this with employees, customers, vendors and even dear friends. We fail to really listen to each other.

According to the University of Missouri, of our communication hours, we spend nine percent writing, 30 percent speaking and 45 percent listening. Well, supposedly listening. Most people retain 25 percent of the words we hear. If you are anything like most humans that means that you are spending 75 percent of that time (when another person is talking) thinking of what you are going to say, weighing whether or not you enjoyed the latest Tarantino film or ruminating on that latest political Twitter post that has you all riled up.

Listening skillfully can help your company retain your most talented people, calm upset customers, avoid lawsuits and give you piece of mind. And learning to listen costs you nothing but time.

I am not an expert listener. However, from my years in journalism and from yet more years of helping executives to effectively communicate, I have observed a couple of simple tools that can set you on the path.

Check out the full article in the May issue of Small Business Monthly for five steps to becoming a better listener.