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9 Steps to Becoming a Master Communicator

By Alan Carroll

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I would like to start this series on effective executive communication by first exploring the area of listening. What are the blocks and barriers that stop you from being a master listener? How can we master in-flow? How can we be truly "present" to another person’s communication?

Once the muscle of effective listening is developed I will shift the conversation to the effective out-flow of communication. This will include both verbal communication and non-verbal communication. In addition to the data, I will also include exercises you can practice to develop your skills.

Say what?

The challenge we all face is we live in a conditioned conceptual reality that distorts our understanding of any other person’s communication. How we are programmed from birth influences our perception. Unfortunately, the programming is so subtle that we are not able to create a separation between our beliefs and the entity that hold those beliefs. For example, for thousands of years humans believed the earth was flat and we knew, without a doubt, that the earth was flat. For thousands of years, we knew that the sun went around the earth and knew this without a doubt also.

Because we all think we know things, in order to get the most value from the words I write (or anyone writes) you need to shift your listening from knowing to not knowing (since, in this example, listening and reading are synonymous). When Galileo says the earth goes around the sun rather then say "no", that is not true based on your conditioned beliefs, approach the idea from not knowing. Say to Galileo, "Wow, I have never looked at it that way before. Why do you think the earth goes around the sun?"

Now you have reached a higher level of listening. You are now listening for possibility rather then listening to assess and judge the idea by comparing it to your internal programming.

Possibility listening is an essential characteristic of the Master Listener.

Listen in the here and now

People often think about communication as just the out-flow of data. However, the enlightened master communicator knows that mastering the ability to listen is truly the key to business success. That's why, if you look at any top CEO in the country, they will all share a specific characteristic of an effective business executive: they are all master communicators and real communication starts with the ability to listen, without judgment, and recreate the other person’s communication in such a way that they have the experience of being heard.

In my 30 years of observing business and IT professionals communicate, it is obvious that these skills are weak in most people. People are just too concerned with preserving their personal world of thought they fail to recreate the thoughts of another person, i.e., they fail to listen.

One senior IT sales manager in Asia I know of got fed up with industry and decided to write a book on sales. His title? Shut Up and Listen.

The greatest gift you can give other human being is to listen and recreate their communication; to be present in a conversation and create a non-judgmental space into which the other person can speak. Yet doing both is a very rarely seen skill.

In any conversation, most of us are always thinking about the future or the past. Yet we operate as if and, believe we are in, present time all day long. To achieve this state of presence or level of consciousness, which I call the "broadband connection", is doable. the broadband connection gives you maximum bandwidth to receive the other person’s communication. So rather then listening to another person’s communication through a 56k pipe, you are listening through a broadband connection.

To achieve this state of conscious awareness, which can be used in both the in-flow and out-flow of your communication, we need to wake up and get control of our body; the machine that does the communicating.

Since most of us are lost in a world of thoughts, "dataland" if you will, our minds are always going with the next idea or the next to-do item, or what we should have done yesterday to be more successful tomorrow. This clouds our space. Our ability to listen to and speak our thoughts is directly connected to our ability to create space, which moves us out of our dataland and into the broadband connection -- the current moment, the current conversation.

To understand what I'm saying try this exercise while sitting quietly at your desk:

  1. Place three objects -- maybe some pictures of people -- on your desk 18 to 20 inches apart.
  2. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and relax your body.
  3. After several relaxing breaths open your eyes and focus your attention on one of the objects.
  4. Consciously feel your feet connected to the floor.
  5. Once you feel your feet connected to the floor and your attention to the object, talk for seven seconds while holding eye contact with the object (Make up anything, babble if you want, just make sure the door is closed!).
  6. Do not move your eyes off the object for seven seconds.
  7. Stop, take a few deep breaths, relax your body and empty your mind of thoughts for seven seconds.
  8. Open your eyes and lock your attention on the second object.
  9. Repeat steps four through eight with all three objects for six minutes.

You will begin to notice empty spaces between your thoughts. Your thoughts are no longer a continuous stream but rather like stars in the vastness of space. The spaces between your thoughts become the way to reconnect to your broadband connection and free yourself from dataland.

Only then will you discover that your space of stillness was there all the time. And really the master communicator simply speaks and listens from this space -- and that is why they are such effective leaders.

Alan Carroll, author of The Broadband Connection: The Art of Delivering a Winning IT Presentation. Mr. Carroll is an educational psychologist specializing in the transpersonal field.