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This story originally appeared on Foro Económico Mundial
Editor’s note: This article was published in the World Economic Forum (WEF) in collaboration with LinkedIn
When it comes to communication , we all tend to think that we are pretty good at it. The truth is that even those of us who are good communicators are not as good as we think. This overestimation of our communication skills is magnified when we interact with the people with whom we spend the most time.
Researchers at the University of Chicago School of Business put this theory to the test, and what they discovered is surprising. In the study, the researchers paired the subjects with people they knew well and then again with people they had never met. The researchers found that people who knew each other well did not understand each other better than those they had just met. Worse still, participants frequently overestimated their communication skills, and this was more pronounced with people they knew well.
“Our problem with communicating with friends is that we have an illusion of insight,” said study co-author Nicholas Epley. “Approaching someone seems to create the illusion of understanding more than actual understanding.”
When we communicate with people we know well, we make assumptions about what they understand, assumptions that we dare not make with strangers. This tendency to overestimate how well we communicate (and how well they understand us) is so prevalent that psychologists even have a name for it: closeness-communication bias.
“Understanding, ‘What I know is different from what you know’ is essential for effective communication,” said study leader Kenneth Savitsky, “but that understanding can be elusive. Some people may be at the same length of time. cool, but maybe not as much as you think. You rush and worry, and stop taking the other person’s perspective. “
What steps to take
Communication is the true job of leadership; You just can’t become a great leader until you are a great communicator. Great communicators inspire people. They create a connection that is real, emotional, and personal. And great communicators forge this connection through understanding people and the ability to speak directly to their needs in a way that they are ready to listen.
The eight strategies that follow will help you overcome the communication bias that tends to slow us down with everyone we meet, especially those we know well. Apply these strategies and watch your communication skills reach new heights.
Speak to groups as individuals. As a leader, you often have to speak to groups of people. Whether it’s a small team meeting or a company-wide meeting, you need to develop a level of intimacy in your approach that makes each individual in the room feel like you are speaking directly to him or her. The trick is to eliminate the distraction of the crowd so that you can deliver your message as if you were speaking to one person. You want to be emotionally genuine and exude the same feelings, energy, and attention that you would have if you were alone (as opposed to the anxiety that comes with being in front of people). The ability to accomplish this is the hallmark of great leadership communication.
Speak so that people will listen to you. Great communicators read their audience (groups and individuals) carefully to ensure that they are not wasting their breath on a message that people are not ready to hear. Speaking for people to listen means you adjust your message on the fly so that it stays with your audience (what they are ready to hear and how they are ready to hear it). Talking to make sure you’ve said what you wanted to say doesn’t have the same effect on people as engaging them in meaningful dialogue with an exchange of ideas. Resist the urge to bring your point home at all costs. When your conversation leads people to ask good questions, you know that you are on the right track.
Listen for people to speak. One of the most disastrous temptations for a leader is to treat communication as a one-way street. When you communicate, you should give people ample opportunity to speak their minds. If you find that you often have the last word in conversations, then this is likely something you need to work on.
Listening is not just hearing the words; it is also listening to the pitch, speed and volume of the voice. What is being said? Something that hasn’t been said? What hidden messages exist under the surface? When someone speaks to you, drop everything else and listen fully until the other person has finished speaking. When you’re on a phone call, don’t write an email. When you meet someone, close the door and sit close to the person so that you can focus and listen. Simple behaviors like these will help you stay in the present moment, pick up on the signals the other person is sending, and make it clear that you will really listen to what they are saying.
Connect emotionally. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” As a leader, your communication is powerless if people don’t connect with it on an emotional level. This is difficult for many leaders to achieve because they feel they need to project a certain person. Leave that. To connect with your people emotionally, you need to be transparent. Human being. Show them what drives you, what matters to you, what makes you get out of bed in the morning. Express these feelings openly, and you will forge an emotional connection with your people.
Read body language. Your authority makes it difficult for people to say what is really on their minds. No matter how good your relationship with your subordinates is, you are fooling yourself if you think they are as open with you as they are with their peers. Therefore, you must become an expert in understanding unspoken messages. The greatest wealth of information is found in people’s body language. The body communicates non-stop and is a rich source of information, so purposely monitor body language during meetings and informal conversations. Once you tune in to the body language, the messages will become loud and clear. Pay as much attention to what is not said as to what is said, and you will discover facts and opinions that people are not willing to express directly.
Prepare your intention. A little preparation goes a long way toward saying what you want to say and for a conversation to have the desired impact. Don’t prepare a speech; develop an understanding of what the focus of a conversation should be (for people to hear the message) and how you will achieve it. Your communication will be more persuasive and timely when you prepare your intention in advance.
Skip the jargon. The business world is full of jargon and metaphors that are harmless when people can relate to them. The problem is that most leaders use jargon too much and alienate their subordinates and clients with their “business language.” Use it sparingly if you want to connect with your people. Otherwise, you will be met with insincerity.
Practice active listening. Active listening is a simple technique that ensures that people feel heard, an essential component of good communication.
To practice active listening:
- Spend more time listening than talking.
- Don’t answer questions with questions.
- Avoid finishing other people’s sentences.
- Focus more on the other person than yourself.
- Focus on what people are saying right now, not their interests.
- Reframe what the other person has said to make sure you understand it correctly (“So you’re telling me this budget needs more consideration, right?”)
- Think about what to say after someone has finished speaking, not while they are speaking.
- Ask lots of questions.
- Never interrupt.
- Don’t take notes.
Bring it all together
As you work to use these strategies, try to avoid biting off more than you can chew. Working on one or three strategies at a time is enough. If you try to take in more than you can handle, you won’t see as much progress as if you narrowed your focus. Once you become effective in a particular strategy, you can take another in its place. Communication is a dynamic element of leadership that is woven into most of what you do each day. You will have ample opportunities to improve your skills in this critical skill.