The new manager walks into the conference room. Several staff members turn and look at each other expressing obvious shock over is youthfulness. He begins to tell the staff that he is only instituting one new change: they are going to begin online marketing using LinkedIn.
He explains to the staff that they are to update their resumes, and they are to encourage their customers to provide positive feedback, commentary, and peer endorsements. The small group begins to whisper among themselves.
“What do you mean by peer endorsements?”
“Why are we updating our resumes?” another asks.
And finally, a third simply asks, “What do you mean, ‘Linked In?’”
Those who have developed or grown up in an environment where a specific concept is the norm must remember that communication fails without a base understanding. Effective communication requires that one never assumes that the listener listens from the same mental place from which the speaker speaks.
There’s a series of events that takes place internally before you even utter a word. Pay attention to your internal process. What do you think about before you speak? Are you considering who you are speaking to? Do not change who you are, but allow your thought process to engage and develop.
As you prepare to communicate, educate yourself about the listener. Begin by sizing them up. Prioritize your audience and customize your message and delivery. Take a look at the individual or the audience and ask yourself if they fit into one of the several categories of listener. Then: stop, think, and formulate a message to strike the heart of the individual listener. If there is more than one person in the audience, then your message will have to be delivered to reach each person as you speak to them all. Take a look around the crowd; observe the various people and how they are acting.
As you consider the following list, think of people in your life. Who do you know that fits most often into one of the categories? Start communicating by thinking about how that individual is best addressed.
- The active listener. This individual will listen to you and hang on your every word. They will take in your message and listen attentively. They often show signs of response — either physically or verbally — to reassure you they are listening. The active listener will also be the first person to verbally give you feedback to assure you they understand. This is the Holy Grail audience.
- The inactive listener. This is the speaker’s worst nightmare. The listener truly allows the words to flow in one ear and out the other. Commonly, the inactive listener is far away in another place daydreaming or solving other problems. This listener is not really listening, they are not present. They may merely be waiting to speak to state their position without hearing yours.
- The selective listener. As the name implies, this listener is waiting to hear what they expect to hear, or hear what they want to hear. A selective listener hears only information needed to formulate a counter argument, or may filter your words until he feels like he has achieved base comprehension to his satisfaction.
- The rushed listener. Much like an inactive listener, a rushed listener will listen only as far as is needed to get the gist of what is being said. Then, they can transition comfortably into an inactive listener.
- The scared listener. This is really a subcategory of the selective listener, but this listener is focused on avoiding harm. Someone who is fearful of being criticized or rejected may only hear those words and phrases they feel they must defend against. Thus, you will be speaking to a selective listener in self-defense mode.
- The thoughtful listener. This is a person who would otherwise be an active listener, and they will give you signs of a concurrence and support, but their only goal is to please you. Accordingly, they become a selective listener who filters out those things they must do in order to make you happy. The message gets lost in their thoughtfulness.
- The “uneducated” listener. This is not a listener who was uneducated in an academic sense. This is a listener who is uneducated as to the arena in which you are speaking.
It is time for you to deliver your message. You have considered who you are, what you have to communicate, and the type of listener or listeners who will hear you speak. It is go time. How will you keep the listener’s attention?
Use all the tools at your disposal:
- Vocal. By using tone and volume, we avoid monotony and rhythmically keep them listening.
- Remaining stationary vs. moving about. In a longer presentation, controlled movement may aid in keeping attention. In short presentations, keeping focus as you stand firmly, may add to the importance of the message.
- Demonstrative items. If you hold up a report, use slides or display the new product, it becomes eye candy to make your presentation more attractive. Everyone has had an experience where someone tries to explain a situation using the salt-and-pepper shakers as people. Using props such as these allows your audience to visualize your example.
- Feed their heads. Use vocabulary that they can understand. Give them something their minds can digest and remember. In the boardroom, you will keep their concentration and focus by referring to income trends and future projections. On the sales floor, you will keep their attention by providing positive customer feedback and acknowledging the salespeople who lead the field. On the factory floor, you will build a better relationship by telling them that they have greater production and teamwork than anyone else in the business.
- Give them something to remember. Relate what you have to say to an anchor that exists in the listener’s mind. It may be a comparison to a past experience or a past success. Show them the big picture. In the boardroom, stock charts, predictions, projections and sales trend analysis may do the trick. On the production floor, a simple banner with the percentage increase in production blown up as large as possible will tell the widget assemblyman exactly what they need to remember.
By weaving together all of these considerations you will create a tapestry that will cover a larger range of listeners. In the event of a one-on-one conversation, a few moments of observation will tell you who you are speaking to, and what you need to say to get them to understand.
Take time to pay attention to your communication process, and then, listen to your listener before you speak. You will hear volumes that allow you to communicate much more successfully.
Joe Curcillo, The Mindshark, is a speaker, entertainer, lawyer, and communications expert. As an Adjunct Professor at Widener University School of Law, Curcillo developed a hands-on course, based on the use of storytelling as a persuasive weapon. He has been a professional entertainer helping corporations and associations improve their communication techniques since 1979. www.themindshark.com