I was recently asked:
“What are the major pillars of a good communicator?”
I gave it a good thought, and here is my answer.
- Be a Good Listener First
In the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen R. Covey brought up the Habit “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” and it really hit home for me.
A good conversationalist, in my opinion, has to first be a good listener. It is a pity that we learn how to read, write, and speak in school but we never learn how to LISTEN. I was not a good listener and I am still improving day by day. But this is what I learned so far: there are 5 levels of listening.
- Ignoring – the first and lowest level.
- Pretend Listening
- Selective Listening
- Attentive Listening
- Empathic Listening – the highest level and the hardest to achieve
The first 3 levels are pretty self-explanatory.
Attentive Listening is what happens to most of us when we ”listen with the intent to reply”, instead of to “listen with the intent to understand”. During Attentive Listening, we are formulating our responses and judging quietly in our head if we should agree or disagree.
Empathic Listening is the top level of listening. According to Stephen Covey, “it is not about agreeing with somebody” but “about understanding them emotionally, as well as intellectually”. It will come with practice for sure, but the awareness of it and the willingness to be an empathic listener is definitely the first step.
- Clarity of Thoughts
When you read a piece of writing, may it be an argument or just a narrative, a clear train of thoughts and multiple layers of depth always make it engaging and memorable. Same goes with speaking. If you can speak with logic, and at the same time push your speech to go deeper and deeper with the right sequence of reasoning, your listeners will have a much easier time following along and getting to the place that you are leading them to.
The opposite is when you go back and forth in the storyline or your arguments, speak with a lot of redundant words which bores and loses your audience, and ignore the process of building the depth. Remember, people are easily confused and bored.
- Comprehension Skills
This sounds basic. It would be a very difficult world if we do not understand one another, right? Well, I am not talking about the basic day-to-day conversations here. I am talking about a higher level of comprehension skills.
Do you really know your target audience? Do you listen to not just what others are saying but also what they are NOT saying? Do you pay attention to people’s facial expressions and body language? Are you able to laugh at the jokes people make? Do you think about what you hear and ask good questions in return? Do you catch misunderstandings fast and correct them effectively?
Now tell me again, do you think you have good comprehension skills?
If you do it right, it will set off a great impression right away and help you quickly build a great rapport.
Poise can include a lot of things. Are you making good eye contact? Do you look intense or relaxed? Is your chest out and arms open? Do you have too much hand movement or none at all? Is your voice loud and clear? Are you breathing naturally? Is the pace of your speech appropriate?
I do not know how to categorize this one so I am calling it dynamics. These are things like the timing (when to say what and when to cut in; when to stretch a story or a joke and when to kill it off quickly), pauses (Obama is an expert on using calculated pauses to keep his audience alert and engaged; comedians give their audience time to digest and laugh), a good flow, alternating sentence structures, emotional connection, a good interaction and engagement with the audience, and so on.
Humour is underrated. That’s why it deserves one column here by itself. In fact, humour is so important that you will see this as a common trait of charismatic people.
This is perhaps what I personally lack the most. I think it is largely due to the fact that my culture (Chinese) is more reserved compared with the Western culture, and that we emphasize hard work way more than play and entertainment. Anmol is very good at it. He makes situational jokes all the time, effortlessly.
What do you think? Do you agree? Is there anything that you think is important but I’m missing? See you in the comments!