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What is most likely to help you reach the top?

What is most likely to help you reach the top?
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When it comes to success in today’s world, being the kind of person others like outranks all of the fashionable traits like competitiveness, willingness to work harder then anyone else, piling up qualifications, or blind obedience to the demands of the people at the top. Pleasant, likable people have the best chances of being hired, promoted, and rewarded. Customers are more willing to buy from those they feel good around—even if they aren’t offering the best deal. Bosses who are well-liked get better performance from their staff and face fewer people problems. Subordinates who get on well with everyone are trusted more and given better assignments.

In contrast, the kind of boss who provokes fear rather than warmth quickly creates an atmosphere that produces worse results, higher employee turnover, and more conflicts. Tough, abrasive companies trap themselves in a culture of stress and anxiety, if only because nobody is willing to cut anyone else some slack.

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Communication depends on trust, and trust is quickly destroyed by those who give off negative vibes. If you deal with others by being more abrasive than the next guy, expect to get the same treatment in return. People who are disliked are the ones others either don’t communicate with, don’t include in discussions, starve of any information, or don’t bring into the loop at all.

Here are some ideas on how to make sure that others see you as a good person to have around:

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  • Whenever you can, act friendly and open. If you’re seen as approachable—a person with neither a hidden agenda nor any “side”— people will make sure you’re included in whatever is going on.
  • Don’t be manipulative. People hate it. It makes the person who is manipulated look like a fool. It establishes you as someone dishonest. Whatever the short-term benefits appear to be, in the longer term it’s the kiss of death to sound relationships.
  • Take the risk (if risk it is) and freely offer your trust to others. Don’t buy into the nonsense that people have to earn trust. If you don’t trust them first, how can they prove that they’re trustworthy? If you trust other people, they will trust you. We all like to work with people we can trust. Colleagues who get a reputation for being untrustworthy are shut out of all the informal discussions that matter.
  • Focus on helping others, not helping yourself. Self-centered people aren’t attractive. If you genuinely concern yourself with being useful to others, you’ll be swiftly rewarded with their support in return.
  • Be yourself. Don’t try to play a part. Others quickly sense if what they see isn’t what they’re going to get. You may have no negative intentions, but they won’t see it like that. Someone who tries to fool them in one thing is probably up to something. Better to keep a distance and avoid being taken in.
  • Take time with people. Your time and attention are gifts of immense value. Give them freely. People who have time for others, regardless of how busy they are, are good to be with. Unpleasant people, who only have time for themselves, are a bore. Never underestimate the impact on others of truly giving them your full attention.
  • Listen more and talk less. Good listeners find themselves in the center of almost any group because that’s where the others want them. We all like to be listened to, so we all like good listeners. Besides, you can’t learn nearly as much by talking as you can by staying quiet and listening.
  • Remember your manners. Politeness counts for a great deal. For a start, it shows that you value the other person. It protects their dignity. No one likes to be treated with rudeness or condescension. Poor manners suggest arrogance, ignorance, or disdain—none of them likely to increase your standing with other people.
  • Try to be good humored at all times I’m not suggesting you act like a clown, but a little good-nature and a sense of humor go a long way to making others feel at more ease with you. Have you ever heard anyone criticized for being fun to be around? Or avoided because they make people laugh?
  • If all else fails in times of stress and crisis, remember this: keep a tight leash on your anger, stay calm, and forget about it afterwards. If you keep your mouth shut, you won’t say things you’ll regret. And if you don’t hold a grudge, you’ll be free to start again without a lot of bitter memories. Giving vent to your anger rarely, if ever, does more than create future problems.

Friendly people have many friends: friends who will speak up for them, help them in tough times and watch out for their best interests,and, best of all, people forgive their mistakes and overlook their weaknesses.

Today’s constant obsession with competition and winning makes it easy for people to slip into bad habits towards colleagues, customers, and subordinates. The more successful you are, the more important it becomes to act with humility and genuine warmth towards everyone.

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There’s nothing some people enjoy more than taking an arrogant prima donna down several pegs.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include Right Relationships and How to give yourself the best chances in life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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