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How to Be Heard and Understood and Be a Better Listener

Want to build better and stronger connections? Improve your communication skills.

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Communication is seen as an easy task for us, humans because we naturally possess the ability to speak. The truth is, the ability to make sounds, words, and sentences do not guarantee successful communication. We all have different backgrounds and experiences influencing the way we see and understand the world. You can say something to one person and get one reaction, but saying the exact same thing to a different person will bring a different reaction. For example, the word “football” usually makes British people and Americans think about different sports. Or hearing the words “good design” we all picture very diverse things in our minds. 

Communication is a complex matter. A successful dialogue means you are able to understand the other person, influence them, resolve conflicts, and misunderstandings. There are many factors influencing our communications that we often don’t see. Nonverbal communication plays a great role in the dialogue. It includes poses, gestures, intonations, and even the volume of a voice. It’s easy to misinterpret these things. Moreover, communicating by text we lose the nonverbal part thus it makes it easy to replace the real “voice” of the other person with intonations we make up in our heads. 

Any business benefits from healthy communications. Communication skills are crucial for our capacity to negotiate, they impact partnerships and sales as well as employees’ satisfaction and efficiency. As a business owner and an expert with a long career in public relations for tech companies, I’ve seen how poor communication stands in the way of success and well-being. 

It is not as abstract as it may seem to be. According to the survey, conducted by Webtorials in Europe and the U.S. in 2017, ineffective communications at the workplace lead to losses in productivity costing a company about $11,000 a year per employee. Earlier research by Holmes Report stated that companies that have leaders who are highly effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders. 

According to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, employees of the U.S. companies blame miscommunication for their stress, failure to complete projects and loss of sales. The same research shows, the problem of miscommunication becomes more severe when different generations get to work together. The EUI’s study concludes that problems in business communications are in many ways caused by the way business education is teaching to communicate. Usually such education includes presentation and self-presentation skills but excludes other communication skills.

Michael Jordan is often quoted as saying: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”. You may be highly knowledgeable and talented, but without communication skills it is not possible to bring to life ambitious projects that require teamwork and capacity to make ideas understandable for colleagues, partners and investors. We definitely  communicate more at work. A research, carried out by Harvard Business Review, showed that the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has grown by 50% or more.

Miscommunication is a waste of time and energy. It leads to stress when we feel misunderstood and incapable to reach out to others.

It also may be a reason for overwork when people have to make over a project that was poorly explained to them from the start. All recent major social trends are also about better communication. They challenge people to listen to those around them who have different backgrounds and a view of the world.  

Katerina Antonova

It takes time to develop all the necessary communication skills but there are some basic concepts to building an efficient dialogue.

Here are 17 tips to help you to elevate your communication:

1. Set a goal for the conversation and keep it in mind during the meeting. It’ll help you not to lose focus. It’s very possible to speak for hours without even mentioning the subject you really want to discuss. Consequently, you won’t get the result you wanted. 

2 Make sure you are understood. Ask the other person questions to make sure you were heard and understood correctly. Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you need. Sometimes we may think things to be obvious to others, but often it is not the case. 

3. Don’t multitask. Concentrate on the conversation putting everything else aside. Full involvement into conversations assures your partners that you are truly interested in the discussion.  

4. Acknowledge if you don’t know something. People feel more connected to those whom they were able to help. Besides, in 2008, psychologists from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College found out that collective intelligence of a team grew bigger if everyone on the team had a chance to talk, thus making everyone a leader for some time. Let others do the talking.

5. Ask open-ended questions.  These are the ones that cannot be answered with just “yes” or “no”. They require a more nuanced response. Such questions help to get more useful information and understand others better. 

6. Call others by their names. Make every conversation personal. When you speak to a person calling them by their name it shows, you are focused on them. Besides, people are pleased to hear their names.

7. Explain your motives. Vanessa Van Edwards, the author of the book “Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People”, advises to use the word “because” when asking for something so that other people could understand your needs better.

8. Don’t skip a small talk before discussing serious business. It helps to relieve tension and elevates general mood of all the participants at a meeting.

9. Don’t judge from your experiences. Treat new people and situations without looking back at the people you know and the situations you’ve been through. Don’t try to fit them in the frame of your previous experience. 

10. Avoid unnecessary details. It’ll make the conversation longer and harder to follow. 

11. Don’t listen to people in order to give an answer. When you are listening to give an answer, you don’t really hear the other person because at the moment you are thinking of your response to what they are saying. 

12. Use body language. Show the other person your interest in them with non-verbal signs. While listening, lean forward a bit, keep eye contact, nod. Keep your hands visible, slightly gesture, hold your palms open. 

13. Speak briefly. Try to speak in short sentences concentrating on the goal of your communication. Don’t be wordy. Make it easy for others to follow your speech.  

14. Make your requests precise. Explain what you want from other people mentioning exact actions they should take to carry out your request. Don’t be abstract. Find examples and references, if you can.

15. Thank people for the time and effort they invested into the conversation. Thanks for any idea brought up at a meeting. Never take other’s participation for granted. 

16. Avoid jokes when talking to people who you don’t know well. Be careful with humour if you are not sure, you’ve already built the bond with other participants of the conversation. To appreciate each other’s jokes you should be on the same page, and getting there is a long process.

17. Speak your feelings. Be honest and say your doubts and worries out loud. It may give others food for thought or an opportunity to fit the ax in the helve. Don’t forget to admit that you like something either, it’s important to give positive feedback. As a study made by Google proved, honesty helps to create a sense of psychological safety in communication.

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