In previous communication blogs, we discussed the importance of making regular contact with colleagues during lockdown, scheduling specific times in the day for effective and thorough communication to take place.

However, it’s all good and well blocking out hours of your day so you can sit down and have a detailed conversation, but without an understanding of the three important pillars of communication, you will fail to extract maximum value from participants.

As cliché as it may sound, communication is a two-way street, so heading into a meeting with the soul intention of only getting your points across, without giving the other parties an opportunity to respond or add value to the discussion will only damage the quality of the communication.

Similarly, it’s crucial to have a list of questions ready to ask when the conversation takes place, as this will allow you to get more information from the process, whilst showing participants that you are engaged in the discussion.

Empathy, listening and effective questions make up the three legs of the communication stool – without practicing one of these effectively, the entire opportunity can be lost.

Empathy

Empathic listening is a structured technique that allows you to develop and enhance relationships with a stronger understanding of the messages being delivered, both intellectually and emotionally. It’s a technique that when practiced correctly can help you win the trust of team members, allowing you to address the root cause of workplace problems if there are some to deal with.

When you are listening to the other participants, it’s important to try and get a sense of their emotions and feelings, and even if you don’t necessarily agree with what is being said, nodding or mirroring the person’s thoughts will help them open up.

At this point, it’s important to take on board the speaker’s feelings – now is not the time to ask direct questions or dispute the facts, as you risk upsetting them and causing them to shut down.

Pay close attention to their body language too. Non-verbal clues are just as important as the words they are speaking, as you can tell if participants are feeling uncomfortable, which could cause them to hold back important information.

In these situations, repeating or rephrasing the points the other person is making will give them the confidence needed to continue discussing the issues, as they feel reassured by your understanding.

Listening and effective questions

As already mentioned, effective communication is a two-way street – you can’t expect participants to be receptive if you are unwilling to take on board what they have to say. In fact, listening to what the other person says is very helpful, as it gives you an understanding of their current position and allows you to clear up any confusion.

Not only this, but accepting the opinions and input of other participants might help you consider points that were originally missed. Even if you disagree with someone’s point, taking the time to listen to them will at least win their respect and attention, giving your messages more chance of being received properly.

Listening goes hand in hand with asking effective questions. In order to show other participants that their messages have been received, the insertion of regular questions shows you are interested in what’s been said.

If you’re discussing a project and perhaps want to extract maximum information from the other party, then open questions like ‘what are you hoping to achieve?’ will encourage the other person to elaborate further, whereas closed questions usually only warrant a yes or no answer.

However, just because open questions help gather more info, that’s not to say you shouldn’t utilise closed questions too. Closed questions can be extremely effective in testing your understanding or concluding a decision, for example, ‘are we agreed that this is right course of action?’ can help lock in a decision, ensuring everyone is working from the same page.

Communicate freely

Throughout January, we have discussed the art of communication at length, going into detail about some of the techniques that should be utilised to ensure conversations are productive and messages are conveyed clearly, without unnecessary confusion.

Given the current situation, with entire workforces currently at home, it’s more important than ever to practice effective communication, taking the time to check in with employees to ensure they are completing work productively and are dealing with the mental stress of extended periods of isolation.

Of course, forgetting bad habits and adopting new ones can take time, but stick with it and as the months pass you will see noticeable communication improvements, allowing you to deliver better results across the board.

Effective communicators don’t only deliver clear messages, but they encourage participants to open up and then listen to the feedback intently. Stay tuned for future blogs, as next month we will look at personal growth as the next topic.