I had a friend once tell me what a great communicator I was. The funny thing was that he was doing all the talking. How can that be? I think it all goes back to what I learned so many years ago at my father's urging me to read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. If you want to make more friends and become a stronger influence in the lives of others, you need to make them feel valued. The number one way I have found to make someone feel valued is to listen to them.
The Practice Field
Since I am on airplanes a lot, I find that I have a built-in practice facility for developing the skill of listening and showing value to others. I try not to be the obnoxious seatmate who won't shut up, but if a conversation starts, I want to use it to practice my communication skills.
To become a great communicator, you need to remember that most people are interested in three things: themselves, their pleasures and their problems. If you can keep this in mind, it will help when you feel the need to talk about yourself. When you can get people talking about themselves, they are drawn to you. And why not, you are talking about their favorite subject. Here are some tips to help improve your communication skills:
1. Be the initiator – It is often easier to sit back and say nothing, but that doesn’t do anything to increase your ability to influence or make a connection. Step up and say hi. Start the conversation…and smile!
2. Ask good questions – I love to see how much I can learn about someone before they ever think to ask something about me. To do this requires me to have some good opening questions to get the ball rolling. What brings you here today? Do you come here often? What kind of business are you in? What do you love most about your work?
3. Listen with rapt attention – Not just paying attention, but with rapt attention. Have you ever tried to get the attention of a child who is watching a favorite TV show? I have to say their name three times before they will look away to see what’s my problem is. That’s rapt attention. Rapt is often associated with the word "fascinated". Can you listen to someone as if you were fascinated by what they are saying? Try it.
4. Master the Pause – You know the pause I’m talking about. That small gap when the person who is talking takes a breath. Control your urge to immediately jump in. I noticed when I was a salesman that if I could master the pause and stay silent when a client took a paused while speaking, they almost always started talking again. And I always sold more when the client was talking and I was listening. I heard someone ask the question, “Are you listening or reloading?” That’s a great question to ask yourself when in any conversation.
5. Resist the temptation to top their story – If you are listening with rapt attention, it is easy to think about times when you have done something similar to what they are describing. I travel a lot, and when someone is telling me about their trip to the south part of the state over the weekend, I have an amazing desire to tell them about my trip to the south of France. When your first thought is, "oh, that's nothing, you should have seen me when I ....", resist that urge. Nothing kills a growing communication skill than always feeling the need to top someone’s story.
It takes focus and concentration to not jump into your story or into discussing your interests, but it pays off when it comes to making friends and positively influencing others. I have learned that if you can become less so that they can become more you end up with a large group of people that love being around you and tell others what a great communicator you are.