Because the three communication skills that generate win-win solutions, and build trust and respect, are:
* LISTENING to the answers generated by,
* ASKING many questions, and
* SUMMARISING periodically, as a means of feedback.
Do you want to be a brilliant communicator? Do you want to influence others easily? Is it part of your self improvement programme? If so, learn to listen, ask and summarise.
Let’s look a bit more closely at each of them.
Listening is the single most important and effective of the communication skills. If you want to be a great conversationalist or you want to be great at establishing rapport, and building relationships with others, or you want to be in control, and influence people, learn to listen. This is not the same as hearing though. It is defined as: making a deliberate effort to understand the significance of what is heard
This means that when you register a sound (hear it) you do some work inside your minds and body – you put in some effort (you listen to it). For example, you interpret the sound to determine, does it matter? You question what the meanings of the sound might be. You associate the sound with other experiences in your internal mental and emotional databases. You ask if the sound needs a response and, if so, what? You think about the implications of the sound for you and others and, internally, you ask many questions about it. In this way, you are making a deliberate effort to understand the significance of what you heard – you are listening. To listen is hard work, as it requires high levels of mental energy and concentration.
In any communication between people there are two things going on at the same time (at least). On one level, there is the content of the communication – what are they communicating about? On another level, there is the process and the relationship – how and why are they communicating? This may include, for example: are they communicating in ways that are building trust or suspicion? Are they creating mutual respect or disdain? Are they enjoying the experience? Will their relationship be stronger or weaker as a result of this communication? Listening can be geared to either one or both of these levels. There is also another language that needs “listening” to – body language – with skillful observation and interpretation.
Asking means questioning, of course, and there are different types of questions and they achieve different things. Listed below are seven really useful types of question:
1. specific, precise, closed questions – very useful for getting accurate, factual information (provided the person answering tells the truth). This type of question will usually get you the facts but that may be all you get. If you want to get things flowing a bit more, you will need to use open-ended questions.
2. open-ended questions – very useful for getting the other person to talk and share opinions.
Great when you are not sure what you’re looking for or when you want to build relationships and establish rapport or when you want to be in the receiver mode.
3. if you combine 2. and 1. above, in that order, you will create funnel questions. Funnel questions work like a funnel in the sense that they start very wide (open-ended questions); you listen to the answers and select something to ask a question about in more detail (your questions are getting narrower); you listen to the answers you get now and ask even more focused questions to funnel in (i.e. specific, precise, closed questions).
4. comparative questions – ask a person to think about a situation, think about a different situation and compare them. Comparative questions are very good for revealing what matters to someone and what they value
5. summarising questions – great for checking out that the messages that are being communicated are being understood as they were intended. They also help you to stay in control and to ensure that you, and others, don’t drift off all over the place (unless you want to, of course).
6. short questions – intended to keep you, the receiver, receiving, and the other person talking, as well as making progress on whatever the communication is about. Short questions are most typically the six words: “what?; who?; when?; how?; where?; and why?”. The most probing of these questions is, “why?”. Depending on the situation, handle this question with consideration for the other person as it may come across as aggressive or cause the other person to feel inadequate.
7. the seventh type of question is the absence of a spoken question – it is a pause or silence.
In some situations, especially if your communication with another person has reached a sensitive point, the approach that will get the best response is to shut up, maintain supportive eye contact and body language, and wait. Most people don’t like the silence that ensues and the other person may well speak out revealing more information. There is, of course, a judgement to be made here as pauses or silences that go on too long may be embarrassing and weaken rapport. The judgement is, how long is too long?
Summarising means accurately repeating back the message that has been transmitted. It is time and effort very well spent because it will:
* ensure understanding
* demonstrate that active listening is taking place
* build relationships (e.g. trust, respect, mutual support)
* confirm or clarify key points
* explore any perceived contradictions
* explore any new information
* reinforce openness and honesty
* confirm common ground
* create opportunities to correct any errors in the communication process.
Summarising is really valuable but is too often rarely seen in communications. It is a great test of listening, of course. If you can’t summarise accurately what has been said, you probably were not listening in the first place (which is pretty insulting to the others, isn’t it?).
In summary, it is the golden triangle of communication skills – listening, asking and summarising – that is the key to achieving great solutions and building trust and respect with others.