Speaking, listening keys to effective communication

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Laramie Reece
  • Unit Advisory Council
Have you ever said to someone, "I'm not sure I understand what you are trying to say?"

At one time or another, all of us have likely said or heard this or other terms when we are trying to convey a point to someone.

Be it job-related or a personal issue, we are continually asked to communicate with others. So how do you speak or listen effectively? Let's look at the easiest one first - speaking.

The most basic speech course teaches elements of effective speaking. Effective speaking uses the best possible method to grab the audience's attention and keep it, allowing the audience to see the point we are trying to make.

But what is the best method when the audience consists of just you and a manager or supervisor who you are trying to convey your concerns to over a given situation? Should you develop an elaborate power-point presentation to outline the problem and solution? Should you have cue cards to look at while you are trying to address your concern or situation?

Whether your audience is a group of hundreds of reservists who are wondering why the rules have changed from one year to the next, or a classroom of school children full of questions about everything (except what you just talked about) you should choose the best method to address your audience and the situation you have.

Being prepared is the most important aspect of any communication that you are going to be part of. You can be prepared by ensuring that you outline to yourself what you are trying to accomplish or communicate. 

It's okay to write down a list of things you want to address so that you can ensure you cover all your areas of concern.

Remember that emotions can ruin the point you are trying to make, so ensure that you are prepared for a variety of situations. The best possible advice that I have heard is to have confidence in yourself in front of the people you are speaking to.

This will radiate through to your point and prevent your audience from getting distracted because they were thinking about you stumbling through the issues you have.

Now, what about listening? How do we effectively listen?

Listening can be more difficult, especially given the surroundings, events of the day or how well you are feeling. There are a variety of rules and teachings that say how you should listen when someone is speaking to you. Generally, how well we are listening is shown to the people who are speaking to us through our body language, or by the way we communicate back to the individual.

When listening, be prepared to listen. Ensure that your computer, phone or any other distraction is no longer going to be there. Consider the situation. Is the person speaking trying to tell you that they don't know what else to do? Listen for a key word or a phrase they say that may give you the information you need to assist this person.

Give your full attention to the person speaking. Try not to think about the pile of work you have waiting for you, or the TV show that is playing. Ensure that you hear all the words the person is saying. A loss of one or two words can change the meaning you receive.

Listen to the point the person is trying to make, and acknowledge that this person may be nervous or concerned. How well you listen may bring some comfort to the issue.

Whether you are the one that started the conversation, or if you were asked to listen, remember that at some point, you may be on the other side.