Say. But above of all, listen.

How come that we people, despite good intentions, often fail to understand each other? This is mainly caused by what you say, how you say and how you listen.

What we say

In conversation, most of us focus on what we are going to say: We choose our words carefully, define our message, and try to make it clear to the other party. We assume that he or she will listen, and comprehend everything just as we intend it to be.

But really, that’s not enough. Are you ever wondering why people are not listening to you in day-to-day conversation, even though your message is crystal clear? You might be using one or more of the bad habits in speaking. To a more or lesser extent, we are all guilty to these habits. According to inspirational speaker Julian Treasure, people will not really listen to you if you are:

  • Gossiping – speaking ill about others
  • Judging – being opinionated and criticising
  • Complaining – being negative
  • Excusing – not taking responsibility
  • Lying – not being honest
  • Being dogmatic – presenting your opinions as facts

I would like to add one more bad habit myself: Assuming. Supposing that someone understands or would do something, based on unspoken expectations. This is a really nasty one, causing lots of disappointment in any kind of relationship. So according to Treasure, what are good habits when it comes to speaking?

  • Honesty – be open and truthful
  • Authenticity – be yourself, or try not to be someone you’re not
  • Integrity – be reliable and keep your word
  • Love – be sensitive and empathic

So get rid of all the unconstructiveness in your speaking habits, dare to be open and positive, and see what happens!

How we say things

While we are so focussed on what we are going to say, we don’t think as much about how we sound. Are you aware that listeners may define your characteristics, solely based on your voice? Research has shown that the sound of your voice alone reveals vast amounts of information like your age, physical size, health situation and mood. Next time you make an important business call to someone you haven’t met yet, keep that in mind.

Your voice is a unique instrument, not any two human voices are alike. It’s also one of the first impressions you make on others. A good voice instils confidence, can be convincing and show empathy. But what is a good voice? It depends…I suppose you won’t speak to your executive supervisor in the same way as to your toddler, right?

In both cases you would use different types of pitch, volume, intonation, pace, accents and silence. We do this unconsciously, but you can train yourself to use these voice techniques to your advantage in any given situation. All of those affect how your voice sounds, the impression you make and thereby how you are being understood. This all contributes to the effectiveness of your message.

How we listen

So, we want people to listen to us. But frankly, how good are we in listening ourselves? Not really, I guess. And listening is becoming harder and harder in the 21st century. Most of us are surrounded by noise all the time: traffic, background music or conversations we don’t take part in. Also, we don’t always need to listen carefully to what’s been said to us. We can always look things up again in the newspaper, on YouTube or Wikipedia.

But the most important reason of all: modern media doesn’t exactly encourage deep, meaningful conversation based on listening. We are more and more getting used to receiving information according to the Twitter-universe: People randomly transmitting their feelings and opinions into the world, wrapped up as quick sound bites and one-liners. This way, we are gradually becoming unreceptive to +3 minute videos or long reads which focus on the bigger picture and nuance. And consequently, we become impatient listeners.

In order to understand each other in this over-stimulating world, we should pay extra attention to how we listen. So be present while you’re having a conversation. Don’t go on Facebook while you’re on the phone, people will notice you’re not really with them. Try to really be aware of what someone is trying to tell you.

So let me conclude this article with a quote by Julian Treasure: In order to live fully, you need to listen consciously.”

And to this I would like to add: Because if you’re not listening, what you say and how you say it becomes entirely meaningless.


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