The beginning of a new year is a time when many reflect on our plans for the coming year and think about how we can be more successful in our jobs, our relationships and in our lives. Often these aspirations are expressed in the form of resolutions.
Here are three resolutions I would offer for those readers interested in improving their interpersonal communications skills.
I resolve to listen more and talk less.
The famous stateman Bernard Baruch once observed, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
At some point in any dialog when you have something you think is important to say, there is a tendency to stop listening and focus on finding an opportunity to insert your point of view. As Steven R. Covey has noted, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” You can damage collaboration by interrupting or talking over a colleague, which demonstrates that you haven’t been listening to their input or concerns and do not value their participation.
As the American journalist Christopher Morley noted, “There is only one rule for being a good talker — learn to listen.” Not only does listening show respect and empathy, it also helps make sure you’re seeing the whole picture and can leverage those insights to strengthen your own communication. As retired industry executive and poet Catherine Pulsifer noted, “Communications sometimes is not what you first hear, listen not just to the words, but listen for the reason.”
Having grown up in the American South, I personally resonate with Peter Drucker’s advice that “the most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said,” which you can only do if you’re tuned in and listening. And as columnist Doug Larson offers, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”
I resolve to focus on the issue and not the person.
We are all occasionally confronted by communications that make our blood boil, put us on the defensive, or that can prompt an angry off-the-cuff response. Hasty responses often come across as personal attacks and can add fuel to the fire, rather than diffuse or resolve the situation. Making it about the person can damage trust and create barriers to future collaborations needed for success. As attributed to Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As former President Barack Obama once noted, “It’s important to make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Always be careful to focus on the issue, try to see it from the other person’s perspective and try not to “personalize” a difficult situation. Remember that others are watching and their opinion of you will be affected by how you handle the exchange. Leverage disagreements and pushback to strengthen team engagement, and to make ideas better through collaboration. Sometimes people just need to be heard to buy in to your idea or plan of action. And if you work in a gossipy office, you can be sure that any criticism of a work colleague will get back to them (or to your bosses) at some point.
I resolve to communicate in an empathetic way.
Empathetic communication produces understanding and strengthens working relationships. Empathy can take many forms. The famous author John Steinbeck offered, “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” Mother Therese observed, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Steven Covey offers a classic definition of empathic listening, which he describes as “reflecting what a person feels and says in your own words to their satisfaction, so they feel listened to and understood.”
Industry CEO Aaron Goldman frames empathetic listening as an application of the Golden Rule of treating others as you wish to be treated. His version suggests that you “communicate unto the other person that which you would want him to communicate unto you if your positions were reversed.”
One way to ensure more empathetic communication is not to respond right away to any communication that causes you as the recipient to have an emotional reaction. Take time to let your emotions cool, put things in perspective, understand what prompted the communication, and craft a response that is consistent with all three resolutions. You can vent on paper to get the bad energy out of your system, just make sure to click ‘Delete’ instead of ‘Print’ or ‘Send.’
I wish you all the very best for the New Year, and hope that these three resolutions provide useful insight and inspiration that you can put to use in your own life.