Want to be an outstanding communicator? Close your mouth.

Woman with finger to mouth signalling quiet

It sounds to easy, but really the best communicators know when to keep their mouths shut and really listen. Rather than trying to promote themselves, an idea or a position, they focus on truly trying to understand. Sometimes we simply need to be heard. Often times that is the best solution to simply listen to the other party and help them to sort out their solution.

A lot has been written on how to actively listen in a negotiation and how to listen better with difficult people. It isn’t always easy.  Listening takes work. 

It takes a real effort when all you want to do is let the other party know what you are thinking and what you want them to do.  However, if you really want to communicate your message instead of spending all of the time speaking and leaving a few minutes for questions, try a different technique.


The proactive listener


What if you presented the critical facts and then left a disproportionate time for question and answer or just to let others share their thoughts?  How about if you brought on board a facilitator to actually facilitate listening on your part to make sure everyone was heard?  Imagine what kind of image that may present for you as a leader?  How may you be perceived versus the leader that came with all of the answers? 

Instead of coming with all of the answers, what if you came and asked the participants what their concerns were? 

To demonstrate listening have someone take notes and refer to them after the meeting to make sure others knew their ideas were taken seriously.


Feeling the energy in the room


Feeling the energy in the room, work with the others there and be a positive influence to reflect the needs of others. 

Your body language and facial expressions should reinforce that you are taking in the other’s perspective.

You are seriously relating to the other party.  Have an agenda of what you want to cover, but at the same time you want to be very sensitive to the other’s emotions and concerns.  Maybe their agenda is not yours.  Maybe that has to be recognized, but won’t be covered in this dialogue. It may be something for another interaction at a later date.


Be empathetic not sympathetic


Being empathetic is not being sympathetic.

When you listen with empathy you reinforce what you understand from the other party.

You are aware of what is being said and you put yourself in their shoes.  Demonstrate that you can relate to what they are saying. You are trying to relate to their feelings. You are relating to their thought pattern. You are trying to relate to their experience their perspective.

Sympathy by comparison may emit feelings of pity or sorrow. Certainly, if someone recently experienced a death and they are sharing that with you, it is important to demonstrate sympathy.  Otherwise it is a good idea not to go there beyond recognition. It is important to stay focused on the discussion at hand.


Responding to criticism


Do not respond negatively or be defensive relative to criticism. Instead, view this as an opportunity.  It potentially took guts for someone to share the criticism with you.  Step back and realize the effort it took for the other party to bring up the issue.  Thank them for sharing that issue and their perspective. Acknowledge their concern.  Demonstrate that you feel their pain as much as you can feel their pain. Don’t say, “I feel your pain”.  Rather, state something like “I can tell you feel very strongly about this issue.”  In that way you are acknowledging what you perceive as their emotion.  Be ready to be corrected.  Accept the correction.

Ask for constructive feedback

This makes it harder for you to become angry.  It may still hurt, realize we all have blind spots, faults and areas of concerns. No one is perfect.  Thank the person for sharing. You can only improve if you can be open minded and accept their criticisms.


Discuss with others and don’t interrupt


Don’t be snob. Do be a team member and team player. Don’t be aloof or condescending.  That is a sure-fire way to shut down interaction.  This can be very hard.  It is a personal fault that I have to be very conscious of personally, because I do to tend to interrupt. It is hard. 

Be there to learn and to understand.

Be present in the moment with the other party. Again, this work to control the fire.

When things are going well give them the limelight. Let them shine and take the spotlight. Let them have their time in the sun. Direct the positive energy to the person being honored.


Determine what is important


When given a whole laundry list of concerns, determine which ones are most important and address those first.

That is truly what is of greatest importance. Don’t get bogged down in the minutia.  Stay away from trivial matters.  Determine if it is even worth discussing.  If it isn’t, accept the concern and move on to items that truly matter.

Focus on values and not on beliefs. 

You will not convince someone to change their minds on something they believe in very strongly.  However, you may be able to relate to the other person and work with them by finding common values.  Learning to look for common values goes a long way towards conflict resolution and understanding.

Problem solving versus listening

As a problem solver you do not have to be the solution provider. You may view yourself in that role, but in this instance, it is better to work with the other party. Ask good open-ended questions. Paraphrase what the other party said in your own words.

Demonstrate that you are listening and that you care.  Summarize the key points.

Perhaps your questions may help the other party work towards a solution that they came up with on their own. If they came up with the solution, they are likely to own the solution. It is theirs rather than yours.


Calm the fire


It is our tendency to arrive ready to do battle.  Instead calm the fire. Work to de-escalate yourself.  Instead of being there to tell the other party what you want to say, listen to them and their concerns.

What is they want to have happen?  Remain calm. 

In this article it is suggested that you avoid being provoked into a negative response. Don’t abandon value-creating strategies, and use time to your advantage.


Bringing it all home


Practice self-control.  Be there to listen. Realize this takes a real effort. This doesn’t just happen. Be quiet and listen.

Really listen. Shut up and demonstrate actively listening by paraphrasing and summarizing their thoughts in your own words. Ask open-ended questions that may help the other party develop their own solution. Be empathetic, and don’t be aloof or condescending. Don’t interrupt.


About the author


 Mike Gregory is an expert on conflict resolution business to government (IRS), business to business, and within businesses. Mike is an international speaker and he has written 11 books including Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One, The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions. Mike may be contacted directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]