What Comprises Effective Communication?

On a Saturday afternoon, I booked an Uber to take my daughter from one shopping centre to the other. As I got the confirmation of the booking, my phone crashed. For weeks, I had ignored my slightly aged iPhone telling me that the battery had done its duty. 

I headed to the pickup point, taking the chance of identifying my booked car among the steady stream of vehicles arriving at Plaza Singapura. A car pulled up that seemed to have potential to be an Uber, so I headed over, opened the door and asked, “Uber?” upon which the reply was “yes”. “For Mette?” Affirmative nodding. “To Great World City?” Nodding, this time with a gesture for me to enter.

As soon as we were seated inside, the miscommunication became brazenly obvious. It was, in fact, a Grab car and it was going to take someone with a Chinese name to Hillview.

I looked at my daughter; we left the car and burst into laughter.

Remember the communications model at school? Communication requires a sender and a receiver. I was the sender, and the receiver was the driver.

That makes it communication. However, it was not particularly effective. 

There are four ingredients in effective communication

In my book, I have described a model of effective communication. The framework forms the basis of our ‘Present with Impact’ and ‘Communicate with Impact’ coaching and training. We’ve named it the “WALK the Talk” framework of effective communication. It is based on four dimensions of effective interaction:

  • W: Words (using words that impact)
  • A: Architecture (structuring your message so it sticks)
  • L: Listening (listening to truly understand)
  • K: Kinesics (congruency in words and non-verbal, or body language)

 If just one of these elements is lacking, the effectiveness of communication is reduced. ‘Listening’ is vastly under-estimated and probably the most neglected among the four. Stephen Covey has famously said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Sadly, a generation after Covey’s quote, we’ve seen very little improvement.

Why is listening so difficult?

Listening is easier said than done. We can speak about two words per second, but we are able to listen to triple that. This is why your mind wanders on the right cue, why you have time to debate the arguments, and think about what you’re going to have for lunch instead. And, just as with Internet browsing, often, we are lead astray. Before we know it, our lunch consideration has resulted in thinking of Jack, with whom we have a lunch appointment, and how his wife has just delivered a baby, and how your own kids were so much easier as babies, and whether the kids brought out the garbage this morning as they were supposed to. And, oh, you need to buy garbage bags.

It’s difficult to listen. Here are some tips:

  • First, let go of the pressure or urge to respond. Ignite your curiosity about others rather than aiming to tell your story. People want to offload their thoughts, and often do not have the capacity to listen to you until these are offloaded. Develop patience to listen first.
  • Second, ask questions that truly interest you. This is going a step further with your curiosity. Ask yourself what you’d truly like to know more about, and you will steer the discussion in a direction that you’re truly interested in, and listening becomes easy. Find common passion and interests, and it will be easy as pie.
  • Third, connect on a personal level. Be open to truly connecting, and show with your body language that you are listening. You’ll set your subconscious mind on autopilot to do the listening. Do this by maintaining eye contact with the speaker, leaning forward, nodding at the appropriate moments, and showing suitable facial expressions at the right times.

When you adhere to these tips, you’ll see that listening is a huge advantage. Not only do you get much more information, which is an advantage whether you’re in a private conversation or business talk, you’ll also be more liked. Listening is a sign that you truly care; people feel it, and return it by liking and trusting you more.

To me, however, listening is – admittedly with many exceptions! – simply fascinating. It allows me to constantly learn and discover.

By Mette Johansson, founder of MetaMind Training, author of “How to Make Yourself Promotable – 7 skills to help you climb the career ladder” and speaker on leadership topics, including Authentic Leadership – “Unmask The Leader Within”

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