Andrew Bryant of Self Leadership International looks at the characteristics of good communication, and the traits of good communicators, and explains how to improve dialogue with clients and other people.
Date: Dec 2011
It is not just about getting your message across, which most people tend to focus on, he explained. Instead, it should be about shared communication and ensuring that the message has been received and understood.
For example, when people are sending emails or having a conversation, real communication means knowing how it has been received by the other party, what it means to them and whether they have any questions.
In addition, said Bryant, great communicators focus less on what they are saying and listen more closely to what the other person is saying, both verbally and non-verbally.
Given that human beings are both logical and emotional, some people might understand something logically but not accept it emotionally. As a result, he said, great communicators, also connect with how the other person feels about information.
So you have only really communicated when you connect with what someone’s emotions are, said Bryant.
Individuals need to learn the phrase “do you mind if I ask you a question?”, said Bryant, adding that this is clever because in itself it is a question, therefore creating the precedent.
Most people will always respond by saying “yes”, and then as they respond to the main question, it is important to have the ability to summarise back to them what is being said and what they mean – essentially getting confirmation to ensure that what you think is the case is in fact the truth.
Often, explained Bryant, the barrier to dialogue exists when someone has an existing mental map and is seeking to prove this. Language in dialogue such as “don’t you agree…” or “don’t you think…” simply has the effect of shutting the other person down by imposing ideas on them, he added.
In addition, it is important to be comfortable with silence, especially in business dialogue, rather than rushing to rushing to fill it. Sometimes people need a bit of time to process information or thoughts during a communication.
Great dialogues, said Bryant, surprisingly have quite a lot of silences, where both parties are processing and reflecting on what they think and how they feel, and what they want to say.
Use of technology
According to Bryant, gadgets and technology increase the ability to connect and pass data. However, he added, the problem is that many people can become data rich and information poor.
People should use gadgets sparingly for basic messages, he advised, but should often follow up with an invitation to discuss this further in person or on the phone.
Agreeing next steps with clients
Getting a commitment to a next step, said Bryant, should be the end of any conversation.
This means taking time to summarise with the client what has been discussed and what they understand by the communication. At that point, people can either ask the client what they think next steps are, or suggest what they are and ask whether the client agrees.
Too often, people come out of a meeting and say it went well, but they don’t have specific next steps – which Bryant said is due to either fear or laziness in terms of not summarising the conversation.