What Is the Most Important Communication Skill to Acquire?

By Mary Verstraete

This year I’ve had the opportunity to consult in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One particular small business needed mission, vision, and values clarified, systems and processes developed, and team and staff development implemented. Sounds like straightforward tangibles, doesn’t it? It was only a matter of one week when the most evident need became apparent: effective communication.

I initiated conversations with the business owner and each employee to begin the consulting process. This wasn’t the kind of communication that taught them how to make information clear, or even effective communication processes using project management platforms such as Basecamp or TeamPM, or an inner-office communication tool such as Slack. It was the kind of communication that conveys respect, compassion, sincerity, develops leadership potential, creates a culture where employees experience being safe to express themselves, and trust is embedded in every conversation—communication that coach training develops.

Stephen Covey says it perfectly:
Listening with the intent to understand. I mean seeking to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Empathic listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, and you understand how they feel.

In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You listen with your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel. You’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart. You’re listening to understand. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.

Let’s look briefly at the outcomes of listening as explained by Carl Rogers and Richard Farson:

Listening brings about changes in people’s attitudes toward themselves and others. People who have been listened to become more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian. When people are listened to, they tend to listen to themselves with more care and to make clear exactly what they are feeling and thinking. 

Listening is one of the most important communication skills that we can acquire because it’s the primary way that we develop relationships, understand others, and build trust.

As time went on in my small business consulting process, I watched young men and women respond to being understood, listened to, valued, and respected. They held their heads higher, their voice took on a tone of confidence, their eagerness to learn increased, and their hidden abilities surfaced with enthusiasm. What influenced these results? The kind of listening that coach training develops, called Empathic Listening.

These results were certainly worthy of celebration, but something else was filling my thoughts: I genuinely believe that coaching is one of most effective and influential mindsets in the life of an organization and when it is woven into the conversations of leadership, supervisors, and teams, it develops a culture of strong trust, compassion, engaging collaboration, and highly creative innovation.

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