A Secret to Better Communication

I have found if you want to become a better communicator it has little to do with speaking. This is because a significant aspect to becoming a better communicator comes with the skill of listening. The best leaders know the value of listening.

When Captain Michael Abrashoff became Commander of the U.S.S. Benfold, he realized this secret. In It’s Your Ship he wrote, “It did not take me long to realize that my young crew was smart, talented, and full of good ideas that frequently came to nothing because no one in charge had ever listened to them.” He understood the importance and benefits that would come if he started to listen to the people on the front lines. He says,

“I decided that my job was to listen aggressively and to pick up every good idea the crew had for improving the ship’s operation. Some traditionalists might consider this heresy, but it’s actually just common sense. After all, the people who do the nuts-and-bolts work on a ship constantly see things that officers don’t. It seemed to me only prudent for the caption to work hard at seeing the ship through the crew’s eyes.”

Because Caption Michael was willing to listen and apply the ideas from his crew the U.S.S. Benfold became recognized as the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet, winning several prestigious awards. This story shows the importance and benefits that come when a leader listens to their people. If you want to become a better leader and communicator then apply these listening skills into your life:

Share the conversation-

Leaders would benefit from listening more than talking, or at the very least have a balance between talking and listening. This requires being intentional about not steeling the conversation and by allowing the other person to talk. When someone feels like they will have the opportunity to talk they feel free to openly share and bring ideas to the table.

Body language-

Having proper body language shows the person you are listening to them. This is an important aspect to listening because “80 percent of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not words.”~Deborah Bull This is why it’s essential to have proper facial expressions, posture, and eye contact when listening. Become aware what your body is speaking while you’re in a conversation and make necessary changes. When you do this it will show the other person you’re listening to what they are saying.

Show you hear-

A practical way to show you are listening and hearing the other person is to either summarize or repeat key points the person has said. Using words like,

What I hear you saying is…

Or

Did I hear you correctly when you said, “key point?”

Or

How does “key point” make you feel?

Saying words like this will help you clarify and understand what the person is saying and it will show you are listening.

Question: What are some other listening skill you have found helpful?  

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I think the most powerful thing is to apply what you’ve heard and give credit where credit is due. That shows people that you’re listening and implementing the good ideas that come your way!

    • Great point Loren. Giving credit is also a great way to build trust with a person or team. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dan, one of the tangible ways to show my team that I hear is my immediately pushing up the ladder of any ideas that are shared. I copy them on the communication to show that I am very serious about listening and that their ideas are being valued.

    • Juan, that’s great. It shows your people you care about their thoughts and ideas. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • I was smiling when I got to the body language section because all I could think of was Joe Biden in the vice presidential debate. :) These are all really great tips. I love leaders who lead with an “I want to get you all involved in it” style. It’s very true that often the workers are the ones who have a grasp of situations the managers don’t always see because they’re not always in the thick of things.

    • Barb,

      I never thought about that until you mentioned it, good example. It’s a practical way to be a better leader/manager. Thank you for reading and sharing.

    • How do you think the VP faired Barb, in terms of what Dan has shared

      • Haha, that is so funny, Ngina. If I look back up at what Dan wrote, I think he may have been a little weak in some areas. :)

  • I find a way to either repeat, or even better, summarize what the person was saying. It helps me to remember and engage with what they are saying, and shows that not only am I listening, I care enough to understand,

    • It’s a great thing to do. I also make it a point to do the same thing. The key is to make it sound natural. Thank you for sharing.

  • Not jumping in and cutting others off, keeping a relaxed body posture (as opposed to shifting around in impatience), being quiet in my mind and heart – and that has been key. I think when am at peace with who I am (no need to prove anything or bully others), my outside relationships fair so much better.

    • I totally agree with you. One of the best things we can do is to be our unique self. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

    • That’s a great point that wouldn’t have occurred to me, Ngina – being at peace with we are and not feeling like we need to live up to expectations is huge.

  • floyd

    Pride, ego, and insecurity are the poison darts of a failed leader. They are shot from the gun of communication. I find myself listening and when at the proper time I like to add, “That’s a great point.” If you listen and communicate long enough the mind begins to expand for everyone involved and new ground has been forged in the collective effort. Great point, Dan!

    • Agreed, they can ruin a leader or relationship. Great listening skill Floyd!!! Thank you for sharing it.

  • Great post, Dan. As you might know I teach communication courses. You’re right on about listening. Many of us are not good listeners. We tend to work on our own ideas and responses to others rather than truly listening. Some scholars refer to this problem as ego-speak. Good point about body language, too. Although body language is somewhat ambiguous, it’s very important and can tell us much about a speaker’s thoughts and feelings.

    • It’s an important skill for anyone to have. I’ll have to do some more research on “ego-speak” it sounds very interesting. Thank you for sharing your insights:)

  • Dan,

    Great post! It’s Your Ship is a great read and I recommend it to all. I would also recommend his last book It’s Our Ship.

    For me, the antagonist to communication is a failure to connect. Leadership is all about relationships and adding value to others. In order to communicate effectively we must make a solid connection.

    • I have read and really like both of his books. They are full of leadership and management wisdom.

      Perfect point, if we fail to connect with others requires us to focus on them. This means we have to take time to listen and show we care. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • wow, Dan this blog post is incredibly profound!
    Here at Bethel church we constantly talk about what we call building a “culture of honor”. It’s so crucial to be a leader that truly believes in the potential and of his followers/ employees or congregation.
    One of my mentors once said something like this:
    “People will always rise to the expectation you (as their leader) have in them.”
    Only if we truly believe the people we lead are powerful and innovative, we’ll treat them as such and will therefore encourage them to be powerful.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
    I especially loved the story Captain Michael Abrashoff. Shared your post all over my Facebook!

    • What great words your mentor said. It’s so important to listen to our people and those around us. Thank you for reading, sharing, and adding to the discussion.

  • Ashish Mittal

    Hi Dan,
    you bring out really good topic of listening
    In my opinion “Listen to all, then do what you feel is right” should be one’s approach in life. Listening helps us to grasp new ideas in life which leads to development. Is provides us time to introspect our self which is very necessary to select the right path.

    • Hello Ashish,

      Great thoughts. I’ve learned the value of taking the time to really stop my inner talk to listen. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      Do you have a site or blog? I look forward to connecting more with you.

  • Very impressive article. I have read each and every point and found it very interesting

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Feel free to share your thoughts on my blog anytime.