The quieter you become, the more you can hear (or three simple ways to communicate more effectively)

I started thinking about this when I came out of a really important meeting in No10 feeling a bit chewed up. I’d been able to speak, but felt I’d been misheard, and I was furious with myself.

Learning the basics of effective communication is such a massive, but quick, win – there are lots of small changes you can make which mean that you both give off what you want, and make people around you feel heard.

So next time you’re pondering how to be more visible or powerful, how to get your toddler/ teen to do what you want, or even trying to win at the poker table, you’d do worse than read this and take on a few of the tops.

More important than projection and and volume and vocabulary, is making people feel really heard is something you can work on in three ways:

  1. Listening actively
  2. Thinking about non-verbal skills
  3. Understanding your communication style (and how it is experienced by those around you)

This post isn’t meant to the definitive guide. But it’s a good place to start.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply

Stephen R. Covey

Active listening

In any relationship, knowing that you have been heard is central to building a strong connection. It’s absolutely true for job-sharers, but no less true for any other bond.

Active listening is about:

  1. Demonstrating that you are listening and
  2. Showing that you understand what is being said.

And the good news is, it’s not particular tricky - you may just have to be a bit deliberate until it becomes second nature.

Try these tricks:

  • Use body language (smiling, nodding) and words (“I understand”, “I hear that’s important to you”, or even just “mmm” and “uhuh”)
  • Say when you don’t understand
  • Interject/ asking for clarification/ or even disagree. (When you do this, be sure to ask permission – “can I just ask…”)
    It’s worth saying that this is not the moment to question the entire premise of someone’s narrative, or to undermine their decisions. An interjection should be around a specific point. If you disagree with the larger picture, you should wait until they have finished speaking.

Non-verbal skills: 93% of communication is non-verbal:

Of course, the majority communication isn’t what we say, but how we say it. It's the sum of body language, tone, inflection, eye contact, and also your position.

There are tomes devoted to it, but here are a few cues you might find useful to spot (and ones you might might like to practice to appear confident and engaged, even when you’re jelly inside.)

Unlike words, most people find it very difficult to control, so this is a great source of information that you overlook at your peril. But don’t forget what you’re giving away either!

Listening is an art that require attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.

Dean Jackon

Your communication style

There are as many ways of classifying communication styles as I’ve got shoes (well, maybe not quite that many…)

We use a four-part framework to help our sharers think about their own style, and that of those they’re around. (Any more than that, and it becomes hard to remember and so MUCH less useful!)

comms grid.jpg

The first step is to understand your own style. You can do that by taking our quick online quiz: it takes about 2 minutes, and you’ll get a readout straight away.

The next step is to have some ideas about which box people you interact with fall into (you could even print the grid out and make some notes). The vocabulary they use will be a pretty big clue. And it will help you understand why Janet in accounts drives you crazy, but Hermione in HR just always ‘gets it’.

Even better, when you understand how they communicate, you can reflect their style when you’re with them, to help them understand your points better. Try it - it really works!

So there you have it

Three simple but effective changes you can implement straight away to make your relationships much more harmonious and productive. Give it a go and let us know how you get on!

And when you're dealing with someone at work who just won't shut up, it’s also worth remembering the following:

Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.


Sara Allen