There is no doubt that communication is perhaps one of the most essential skills that a person needs in her life. And although all of us do communicate (we read, write, speak, and listen), not many of us do well in all areas. And good communication – that is the very key to powerful leadership.

My leadership effectiveness gained momentum when I learned how to listen. I learned that when I communicate, I must be clear about how my communication is being heard by the recipient. What I mean is that I want the person I am speaking to, to really understand the meaning or intention of my message. I take the time to ensure that the level of clarity I want to achieve is actually happening.

Stephen Covey, who in his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, writes:

Communication is without question the most important skill in life. There are basically four modes of communication: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. And most people spend two-thirds to three-fourths of their waking hours doing those four things. Of those four communication modes, the one that represents 40 to 50 percent of our communication time is listening – the one mode we have had the least training in.

By improving all these four types of communication modes with an emphasis on listening, you can take your leadership to a whole new level.

To communicate well, it is important that you pay attention to each and every aspect of communicating. Speaking all the time, without listening to what others have to say, will neither make you very popular, nor a good leader. On the other hand, simply listening to what people around you are saying but not speaking up and giving your input will also not make you a good leader. The key is in learning how to develop your communication skills so that you speak when necessary and listen keenly.

When speaking with your employees or others who look to you for leadership, you should talk clearly and simply. Avoid using too many complicated terms or technical jargon as this is only going to end up confusing your listeners, which could cause your message to be lost. I often ask others to tell me what they just heard to ensure that the intention of my communication is understood.

However, in trying to communicate and speak well, you should not forget that talking is only one aspect of good communications. The other aspect, and arguably the more important one, is listening. According to leaders who are at the top of their field, listening is absolutely vital in order to understand and to be understood. When you listen to what people are saying (not simply “hear” them, but actually “listen”), you obtain a higher level of awareness about the other person. Clarity of communication by the one who is speaking and the one who is listening is the responsibility of both parties. Learn to do both well and ensure that others do so also and you will augment your leadership power.

When listening to people, it is essential that you hear not just what they are saying, but also what they are asking. People will not come right out and ask you to respect them, or to appreciate their work, or perhaps be a friend to them, or simply crack a smile at their jokes. By listening well, asking for clarity, and ensuring that you understand what others are saying will give you a much stronger position to relate with them. Be careful not to add your own perceptions to the message being presented, ask for clarification. If you listen properly, you will be able to adjust to what the situation demands, and will hence find yourself at the right place at all times. Listen for the opportunity to contribute to others.

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