Interpersonal Communication and Productivity

Stephen Covey got it right—Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Many of us forget the importance of truly trying to understand the speaker before offering up our comments. Without this understanding, we set ourselves up for ineffective interpersonal communication.

What happens when we don’t understand the message? We jump to conclusions and we misdiagnose. This is like diagnosing symptoms as problems, rather than getting to the root of the symptoms to find the problems. Our tendency to rush to fix what’s on the surface can get us into trouble. This is why communication is so important.

Reading, writing, speaking, and listening—these are the basic ways in which we communicate. If we do not understand, really understand the message; then we are in danger of losing our work effectiveness and productivity. In fact, one of the top reasons that employees leave companies is due to their relationships with their supervisors. Employees who feel heard and understood have more productive relationships.

To improve your productivity and, as a result, the organization’s productivity, you need to listen to the speaker first. This is counter to what we normally expect; i.e., to be understood. But it’s an iterative process. If we make the effort first to understand, it follows that the speaker will also make the effort to understand our point of view.

To help you improve your listening-for-understanding skills, here are ten suggestions (adapted from Business Communication Today by Bovee, Courtland, & Thill):

  1. Minimize both internal and external distractions. Close windows, doors, turn your chair, and adjust the environment as much as possible to really focus on the speaker.
  2. Adjust your listening to the situation. If you’re listening to instructions from your boss, you will want to pay closer attention than if you’re listening to the local sports or news cast.
  3. Use nonverbal communication to enforce listening. To show the speaker that you are listening and understanding, nod or shake your head, use facial expressions, and adjust your posture. Making eye contact is also important.
  4. Selectively remember the most important points. Use mental imagery or write down the important points, so that you don’t forget them.
  5. Demonstrate empathy. If a friend or colleague is discussing their problem with you, show them that you understand and empathize with what they’re experiencing.
  6. Do not provide advice unless asked. Not everyone wants advice when they tell you something. Only give advice if asked to do so.
  7. Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to finish before providing your point of view or asking questions.
  8. Don’t prejudge the message or the messenger. You can learn something from everyone. Keep an open mind.
  9. Focus on the subject. Train yourself to concentrate even when the topic is not very interesting.
  10. Do not overreact. If someone is presenting a topic that you’re passionate about, curb your emotions and present your points calmly. You will gain credibility if you keep your emotions in check.

Communication is the most important skill in life. If you truly understand the speaker and the speaker feels you have made a connection, then a trusting relationship is established and communication becomes freer. This allows you to cultivate better relationships at work; leading to more effective and productive results for all.

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