I’ve been working most recently with a London-based client and as a result, I find that I regularly travel into our capital on the train. The journey is just under two-hours each way which allows me ample time to review emails, prepare materials as well as achieve a little thinking time. What it also provides is a wonderful opportunity to “people watch” …. or more specifically in this case, “people listen”.
Invariably, on most journeys, I encounter those that seem oblivious to their environment and are seemingly happy to share their conversation with the majority of the train carriage. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not overly interested in the “email Bill didn’t reply to”, or how “Sally has been promoted above others”, but what does interest me is how people interact with each other. The next time you are in a public place or business environment and overhear a conversation, consider the following:
Is the ‘orator’ focused on being clear and articulate, or was this more about demonstrating their knowledge or intellect and dominating the conversation?
Look out for: Continual use of jargon & technical terms; over-explanation of simple things; statements such as “I don’t want to teach you to suck eggs but ….”; one-sided conversations with minimal attempts to engage the other person in the dialogue …
Did the ‘listener’ actually listen, or were they itching to respond, regardless of what was being said?
Look out for: starting the next statement with “but” or “however”; continually interrupting before the other person has finished speaking…
Was the follow-on response from the ‘listener’, linked to the previous statement, or did it feel like there were two separate discussions going on?
Look out for: starting the next sentence with “anyway”; protracted discussions (due to two different subjects or agendas); repetition of the previous statement…
Did the ‘listener’ indicate or confirm in any way, that they have understood what has been said?
Look out for: making no attempt to repeat, paraphrase or contextualise any elements of the previous statement …
Did the “orator” make any effort to ensure that there was understanding?
Look out for: failure to finish a statement with an open question i.e. “so what do you think”;
When you begin to listen for these basic traits, you start to realise just how often people are having a conversation without actually communicating. It doesn’t matter if you are on a train, in the boardroom or consulting with a client, effective two-way communication is essential to generating understanding, buy-in and focus. Speaking is not communicating. Effective communication results from understanding.
Many years ago, a very experienced business leader shared a couple of insights with me that have stuck ever since …
“it’s almost impossible to learn new things when you are speaking”
“as a business leader, I dont need to constantly speak as I can’t know all of the answers. I need to spend more time listening and understanding, so I can identify the people that do have the answers”
The ability to utilise language to comprehensively communicate is what predominantly separates us from other species on Earth. The choice is yours ……..
John Cronin is Managing Director of Blairgowrie Associates Limited. A management consulting business that helps organisations accelerate growth through: strategy & business activity alignment; customer & market insight; growth-focused business improvement.