Learning how to become an expert in anything is complex… mastering an athletic skill, inhabiting a character in a play, communicating in a powerful way, or anything else. Expertise, in any endeavor, is not easy to accomplish.
Whenever I take a close look at the training and preparation habits of elite performers (something I do often, by the way), I see the same behaviors over and over and over again. Every elite performer I have ever read about or studied closely does essentially the same thing, in order to create that elite performance. They all break their performance down into its component parts, and work independently on each piece. And as each piece is perfected, the skills are then built back up into a complex whole. This is especially true with communication skills… we need to break it down into its component parts.
So let’s break it down, starting with the most foundational skill.
If you want to be a more powerful communicator, or if you want to help someone else become one, the most foundational skill is often the most underappreciated… listening. Being a more powerful communicator is primarily about connection… we tend to remember the things we hear from people we feel connected to. And we have an easier time connecting with people we understand. And in order to understand someone better, we must have the focus and ability to listen to them.
One of the most misunderstood elements of listening is that it is not a passive activity. It’s not just letting someone else talk while you figure out what you are going to say next. It’s an active, intentional activity, in which you are truly focused on comprehending and remembering what you are hearing.
In order to make this easier for you, my colleagues and I break listening down into what we call the “Three R’s of Intentional Listening”:
• Respect: Before you start the meeting or take the call, eliminate all possible distractions. Shut your laptop. Mute your cellphone. Close your email. Respect the opportunity in front of you.
• Remember: During the meeting or call, use techniques to help retain information as it is delivered. This might mean taking good notes. It might mean engaging in some dialogue during the meeting so that you are engaged and more likely to retain the information. It might mean asking a question for clarification. But for sure it means staying disciplined and not allowing yourself to be distracted.
• Review: After the meeting or call is over, spend a few minutes to review decisions, important information and next steps. Immediately reiterating this information, whether verbally to your colleagues or by writing up a synopsis for yourself, will help keep it fresh in your mind.
If you want to have powerful communication skills, or want to help someone else do so, then build those skills from the ground up. And the most foundational communication skill one can have is the ability to not be distracted, and listen to what is being said. That’s how we build connection, and that’s how communicate more powerfully.
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