Listen Up!  By Paula Pace

Interesting, isn’t it how we take things for granted? I just assumed when I got in my car this morning that it would start.  You may have assumed that when you got to work this morning your office would be as you left it the day before, and we all assume there will be coffee waiting for us.  Of all three assumptions I rely most heavily on the coffee.

I have found that it is the same with communication skills.  Too often they are taken for granted.  Everyone can communicate – it’s obvious, isn’t it?  Otherwise how would all this business of the world get done.  People must be communicating. 

Yet we are not so gullible; we know better.  We have all seen and experienced a challenge that turned into a crisis in our workplace.   And we know that if people were communicating, truly communicating, the challenge would never have turn into a crisis – rather it would have been an issue to be dealt with, a problem to be solved, an opportunity to take advantage of.

So the question is “How many issues, problems and opportunities have we turned into a crisis due to the inability to communicate well”?  And if communication skills are the answer to so many challenges, just what constitutes good communication skills.

Begin with listening.  I know, I know, that’s what everyone says and you may be tired of hearing it.  Listening isn’t sexy.  It’s old and worn out.  You’d rather focus on something like “crisis management” or “conflict resolution”.  Well, think about this:  if you had great listening skills you could seriously limit the need for crisis management and conflict resolution skills.  It’s something to think about.

When it comes to listening, there are the basics:

* Turn to the speaker and give him or her your full attention,
* maintain appropriate eye contact,
* focus on content, not the delivery,
* speak only to ask questions,
* let the speaker finish, and
* take notes to avoid the need to interrupt.

But there is more to the art of listening.  I suggest you:

1.  Listen for the primary message.
2. Listen for the secondary message.

The primary message is the message upon which you act first.  The secondary message is the message upon which you act second.  For example, let’s say you receive a phone call from a client who is angry because the order she placed with you was lost.  You are perplexed because the system with which your company takes orders works great.  How do you respond?

If you use primary/secondary listening, you will respond in this manner:

1. Primary listening:  Take care of the client’s needs.
2. Secondary listening:  Follow up with the efficiency of the system.

Finally, consider this: 
1. Primary listening makes you a good leader, employee or team member.
2. Secondary listening makes you a GREAT leader, employee or team member.

Of course good communication consists of more than listening well, but we will get to the rest of the communication skills suite.  That’s it for today.

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