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Posted: March 02, 2011

Top 10 tips for effective communication

No. 1: Listen!

John Heckers

Few things are more important in either finding a job or keeping a job than communication. Unfortunately, even many executives do not have the ability to communicate well with others. Here are a few tips to effective communication.

1). Listen. It has been estimated that we begin formulating a response when we have heard less than 15 percent of what someone else has to say. This means that our responses are often geared only to that small percentage, and not the totality of what the other person is trying to communicate. Quiet both your mind and your mouth and listen to what the other person is saying before replying. Then reply to the whole statement, not just a fraction of it.

2). Don't withhold. Too many people hoard information. Introverts are especially frustrating this way. Don't make someone crowbar information out of you! When asked for information, give clear, thorough and useful information. If this is too difficult for you, seek mental health help. The inability, as opposed to the unwillingness, to communicate clearly is a mental health issue. (The new upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is in agreement on this, by the way.)

3). Answer the way you're asked. Didn't you hate it when you were a kid, asked for a spelling of a word, and were told to go look it up in the dictionary? Well, your boss or co-workers hate it just as much when they ask you for a piece of information that you clearly know and you tell them where to find it instead of answering the question. Answer the question.

4). Be courteous. Don't be a jerk! When someone calls you or asks you a question, do not respond with an irritated "yeah," a grunt, or, worse yet, silence. Answer courteously and promptly. Not doing so is incredibly rude...and incredibly risky to your job.

5). Watch body language. If your head is shaking "no" while you're telling a customer how great they are, your body is betraying your true feelings. I have to chuckle at a certain hair replacement company ad on TV where the spokesperson is saying what a great decision it was to have his hair replaced while shaking his head "no." This says "Liar!"

6). Ask, don't demand. You should use words like "please" and "thank you" consistently. Unless necessary, don't demand that anyone do anything. Even if necessary to order an employee to do something, be as courteous as possible.

7). Don't use jargon. Jargon normally separates people and confuses communication rather than facilitating it. I'm especially contemptuous of "business buzzwords" that fly around companies. English is a very rich language. There is no need to mangle it with jargon.

8). Don't evade. Do you notice how politicians are not actually answering any questions anymore? Instead, they constantly evade and go back to talking points. Keep in mind that this is why so many of us hate politicians. Don't be one! Answer a question with direct information and don't evade the answer, even if the answer is uncomfortable. Look, sooner or later the answer will be found out anyway. If you don't answer directly you're just adding one more reason for the questioner to be very angry with you. Remember the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree.

9). No circumlocution. "Circumlocution" means going around McGillicudy's barn to get to a simple point. Most extroverts talk way too much. Learn to get where you're going without going to Cleveland first. Avoid "rabbit trails" and long stories, unless you're using those to illustrate an important point.

10). Don't monopolize. Extroverts can monopolize a conversation, especially with introverts. Learn to take breath, give a minute of silence, let the other person collect his or her thoughts and get a word in edgewise. I have seen many people who have blown an interview or three because of their motor mouths. The first thing I tell my extroverted clients is to reduce the number of words flowing from their mouths by at least 50 percent.

Communication is what makes us human, separating us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is also what allows business to go on. Being unable or unwilling to communicate effectively will seriously hold back your career, make you a target for a lay-off and can even get you terminated. Open your mouth (carefully) and communicate. If you are not skilled at doing so, seek professional help at once before lousy communications skills ruins your job, your relationships and your life.

Ready for that new executive job? Join John and up to 40 of your executive colleagues on Monday, March 14th, 2011, for Executives-Only Structured Networking. No vendors! More info and required registration here.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

This is a great post! I think the tips are very useful for better communication. I also think a lot of this is based on personality. With that said my coworkers and I recently took a DiSC Profile test to determine how we would best work with one another. It is extremely extensive and very detail oriented. I would recommend it to anyone. We took the Intesi! Resources DiSC Profile test and it was awesome. Here is a link to learn all about it if you are not too familiar with the subject. By Andrew Stone on 2014 03 07
Good Article John. Just Tweeted it. Also applies to when you are Networking with poeple too! By Gary Patton on 2011 05 13
Forty-four years of marriage, Annie?!? You and your hubby are to be really commended, given the challenges in our society today. Thanks for your comments on my article. Unfortunately, most people do not listen. They simply react based on their own assumptions and perspective. Some think that their perspective is a "God's Eye" perspective and is right and everyone else is wrong. We all need to recognize that there are many perspectives out there and listen to all voices. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 05 11
I believe that if everyone simply followed Tip #6 "Don't ASSUME to know..." that most everything else relative to your other tips of communication will automatically work itself out. Stephen Covey in his book "7 Habit of Highly Effective People" said it best: "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood" When we take the time to LISTEN and not ASSUME, we become less judgmental, more able to understand the other persons behavior, more capable of seeing their 'template', and less likely to react with negative emotions. When we first choose to listen and attempt to understand someone, it allows that person to feel "connected" to you. Once you set up that 'connection', the rest of your communication becomes so much easier. Effective LISTENING and the desire to 'understand' before being understood, has allowed me the pleasure in my career of dealing with DIVERSE personalities and to maintain healthy communication in my 44 years of marriage. By Annie on 2011 05 10

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