Communication, One Key to Success

May 31, 2009

Q: Our Company is struggling to improve our communications between employees, managers and the executive team. What is the best way to bolster their communication skills?
(Breakdown in Progress, Human Resources Director, financial services, Seattle, WA)

A: The best way to start an engaging conversation with employees is by active listening.


Giving someone your undivided attention is the best way to start an engaging conversation. Eye contact, a relaxed yet alert posture and modulating your voice are essential. Keep in mind that your employees want to receive your message and better understand your situation. Showing empathy, however, does not mean forbidding them from having differing points of view. The object is to find mutual ground.


This involves clearing up confusion to foster greater understanding, without passing premature judgment. In other words, don’t use an attempt to clarify things as an excuse to dismiss another person’s viewpoint. Rather than telling them they’re wrong, soften your approach: “I disagree” or “My data says otherwise” are likely to be more well received.


Part of clarifying things is repeating what someone tells you. This gives the listener a chance to correct your understanding and make sure both sides are on the same page. Providing people with a laundry list virtually ensures that key issues and ideas will be lost. Learning to pause and segment your message helps the receiver catch the gist much quicker. Also, take momentary breaks from the back-and-forth so the parties can ponder and posit new possibilities. That turns active listening into “creative listening.”

Sometimes you may not know what the other person is feeling. Rather than guess, you might say something like: “I know you are on board, but it sounds like you may have some frustration with the decision. Would you care to discuss it?”

Strategize and summarize;

Strategic listening takes active listening to a next level. The goal is more than awareness and empathy. The purpose of such strategic back-and-forth is synergy, a sharing-listening-sharing loop that generates ideas, insights and imagination. It’s important to stop along the way and review and record agreements, unresolved differences and future steps at problem-solving.

As we begin the last seven months of 2009, are you on target to reach your goals? Go forth this week and make a difference in your life and lives of those around you.