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Active Communication

Active Communication: 3 Ways to Improve as a Communicator

March 22, 2022
Lead Others
Naomi Fowler

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change.” – Carl Rogers

As an executive leader at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Texas, I sincerely desired for my team members to be fully engaged in their work and community. One way I tried to create that engagement was by truly hearing and knowing my team. A simple example, we would say “heard” to one another to confirm that we listened and understood what was being communicated. My intent was that staff would feel “heard” in the middle of the chaos of work and life.

However, there was a huge gap between what I wanted and what was actually happening. I noticed the effects of a disengaged team as:

  • Great people were leaving at a higher than normal rate.
  • Staff were resistant and challenged the work of new projects.
  • Talented team members had no desire for leadership/growth opportunities.
  • The quality of our work decreased which was evident in our results.
Active Communication

I found that there was substantial research that connected a lot of the dots with what we were experiencing.

The Research Behind Listening

A study conducted by Dan Schawbelat of Workplace Intelligence, surveyed 4,000 team members and leaders around the globe to ask if what the team members were voicing produced any change within leadership. An astounding 86% of team members expressed that they felt their voice was lost in the void. In the article by UKG titled “A Silenced Workforce” it states:

“Two in three employees feel their voice has been ignored in some way by their manager or employer, which may have a devastating impact on retention: A third of employees would rather quit or switch teams than voice their true concerns with management. When employees don’t feel heard or feel their needs aren’t met, they are less likely to maximize their talents and experience at their workplace — and more likely to seek those opportunities elsewhere. Feeling heard drives a sense of purpose and belonging.”

In addition, there are articles from Inc., Achievers, and Frontiers in Psychology that provide further research surrounding this topic.

Creating space and giving time to fully be present with someone, let alone your entire team, can seem daunting and a little overwhelming. It’s easy to find yourself only listening for the sake of just hearing someone out. In addition to that, working on a team also means that everyone always has something to say.

Active Communication

Active Communication: Three Ways to Develop as an Active Communicator

Listening alone is not enough to fully engage with your team. You have to listen, hear and respond in order for people to truly feel their voice matters. Active listening is merely a component of being an active communicator which is centered around a consistent posture of leaning in. Below you’ll find a few ways to help you improve as an active communicator with your team.

1. Increase Your Awareness

The first step in being an effective active communicator is by listening well. But before you can listen well, you must expand your circle of awareness to look for things you normally wouldn’t. Three areas to increase your awareness are:

– Awareness of Self

Before you can attempt to lend yourself out to someone or something, it’s best to check in with how you’re doing. You can start by asking the question, “Do I have any barriers physically or mentally that would hinder me from fully engaging today?”

– Awareness of Setting

Taking in the setting of a situation can provide context for how people will be affected. Try thinking of it as a form of “reading the room.” If you’re trying to have a sensitive conversation in a busy open space, it’s important to realize the person in front of you may not feel completely comfortable. Taking in these types of cues can help deepen your level of understanding.

– Awareness of Others

Since you can’t always be privy to what’s happening in the lives of those around you, you must be proactive with the observations you’re already taking in. Based on a study completed by Psychology Today, communication is actually 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words only. Take mental notes of the body language you’re observing and ask questions to better fully understand the people you’re interacting with. Keep in mind, reading body language is not an excuse to make assumptions into statements, it’s a tool to prompt seeking further understanding.

2. Develop Habits of Engagement

Once you become more aware, it’s important to take that knowledge and apply it to a few areas:

– Seek First to Understand

It can be natural to go into “fix-it” mode. You may have to resist the urge to try to solve the problem and instead focus on the connection with the person in front of you. You’ll find that most of the time they don’t need your advice first, but rather someone who understands them.

– Be Flexible in Adjusting

One intentional habit step to develop as an active listener is to allow for flexibility. If you’re aware that your team has a few stressful deadlines coming up, it may be helpful to rearrange the schedule to check in on them more. You can also be flexible in tailoring the meeting settings to meet the needs of a conversation. By having a willingness to be flexible as a leader, you’ll see an increase in productivity with both your time and energy.

Active Communication

3. Follow-up and Respond

Communication is ongoing, so following up is a way to express consistent care and accountability for both parties involved.

– Purposefully Respond

It’s necessary to know the purpose of your follow-up. Do you need to simply check in, perhaps further clarify, ask for additional feedback, or provide updated information? Discerning this can allow you to adjust the setting and timeframe of it to be the most effective and appropriate.

– It’s a Two-Way Street

Sometimes, a team needs to know where a leader stands in a situation. If appropriate, following up with clarification can help build a culture of trust behind the choices you make. When clarity can be provided on the how/why behind decisions, team members feel valued/included and as a leader, you become more approachable.

– Schedule It

Allowing too much time to pass before you check in can cause your follow-up to be less meaningful. It can be easy to forget details or the information can become irrelevant. Try setting detailed reminders to follow-up with team members to see how personal/work matters have progressed or changed over time.

Become the Active Communicator Your Team Needs

Active communication is multifaceted and requires you to holistically engage with your surroundings. Owning your part is not as simple as following a “how-to” method, but instead has to become part of who you are as a person. It doesn’t have to be burdensome, it just takes an intentional shift in your posture to begin.

Active Communication

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