I recently read Chad Harbach’s, The Art of Fielding. I’ve got a soft spot for baseball novels. Most baseball stories are about pitchers or amazing hitters. The main character in this story was a good all-around player, but his special gift was fielding.
Fielding is underrated. And yet its impact is easily felt when a game’s result seems to change due to an error. Read the Wikipedia entry for first baseman Bill Buckner. An outstanding 20 year major league career, and he will be forever remembered for a fielding error during the 1986 World Series. Tough break. Fielding matters.
As in baseball, communication involves two major skills. Sending messages through speech and written word (hitting), and receiving messages through listening (fielding). While speaking and writing get more attention, you would be smart to focus more energy on listening skills. Here’s why.
If a speaker with poor communication skills is talking with a great listener, chances are the message will still be conveyed as intended. The listener will make sure she understands. If there is an excellent speaker talking to someone with poor listening skills, the message most likely will not make it through. Of the two skills, listening has more impact on communication success than speaking.
So what makes a good listener? It certainly goes beyond one’s auditory acuity. Listening is an active process. It takes energy and concentration. Think about how you listen to others. How often do you…
- Maintain eye contact to demonstrate interest?
- Ask questions when you aren’t sure you’ve understood?
- Summarize what you’ve heard to confirm your understanding?
- Nod and use gestures to encourage the other person to keep talking?
- Check out hunches about what isn’t being said but might be intended?
- Watch the speaker’s body language and listen for the tone to gain a deeper understanding?
- Clear your mind of distractions and biases that may get in the way of listening?
Listening skills are essential for anyone wanting to be an excellent communicator. If your listening abilities are not at the big league level yet, they could be. It just takes some practice.