We've never been more mobile, more accessible, and more connected than we are today. At the click of a button, we can access anyone, anywhere, at any time. Yet for some reason, the lack of effective communication is still a baffling issue for many organizations.
According to a Holmes (a voice of the global PR industry) report, the cost of poor communication has hit an overwhelming $37 billion. In addition, 400 surveyed corporations (with 100,000 plus employees in the U.S. and U.K.) estimated that communication barriers cost the average organization $62.4 million per year.
On the other hand, this same report found that companies with leaders who possess effective communication skills produced a 47 percent higher return to shareholders over a five-year period.
No matter how you slice it, effective communication is central to an organization's success.
In my opinion, I don't think the disconnect is due to a lack of communication. I'm sure all these surveyed organizations have people who are more than willing to email, text, and meet face-to-face with employees. Rather, I believe the issue resides in the inability to deliver information with clarity and decisive direction.
If leaders want to be more capable communicators, then they'll have to do something that may seem counterintuitive. They'll have to get better at listening.
Here are three ways to hone your listening skills and improve the quality of your communication.
1. Tune in
In the words of Stephen R. Covey, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply."
The difference between listening and being an active listener is the ability to derive sense and meaning from what is said. It's about fully concentrating on what's happening rather than passively "hearing" the message. It's also disciplining yourself not to let prior biases, preconceived ideas, and your own views change the lens through which you perceive the conversation.
Great leaders can objectively empathize with their employees without impulsively interjecting their own perspective.
2. Tone down
Great listeners are slow to speak. They ensure that they have a firm grasp on the situation before insinuating anything. If you don't have a clear response to offer one of your employees, then don't be afraid to ask another question. Robert Half, a human resource consulting firm, said it this way, "Asking the right questions takes just as much skill as giving the right answers."
Don't waste your words by being careless and offering empty advice. If words have the power to build or destroy, then you'll have to choose them wisely. Make sure they are used in a constructive and meaningful way.
3. Lighten up
A New York Times article disclosed the results of a project at Google. After analyzing 10,000 manager observations including performance reviews, surveys, and nominations for top-manager awards, what employees valued the most were even-keeled bosses.
Great listeners check their egos at the door. If at any point your employees sense animosity, judgment or are met with abrasiveness, then they'll quickly shut down. It doesn't matter if it's the best advice in the world, people don't learn from those whom they don't respect.
It's not earth shattering advice, but more often than not, it's the simple things that are most easily forgotten and taken for granted. If you want to improve your organization's communication effectiveness, then teach your leaders how to listen.