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Communicate! Communicate!

Whether you are the speaker, writer, reader, or listener, you must make yourself responsible for clear communications. Enhancing listening skills and being knowledgeable about different communication styles can greatly improve your communication effectiveness.

Listening. Although most of our time is spent listening, research shows that each person hears accurately what is said only one third of the time; the other two-thirds of the time the information is distorted. There are five rules for active listening:

  • Plan to report and take notes.
  • Concentrate on content rather than the speaker's delivery style.
  • Never be afraid of silence; give speakers time to think.
  • Be adept at asking encouraging questions in a positive tone.
  • Summarize what the speaker has told you.

However, there are several obstacles to accurate listening:

  • Predetermining a subject is uninteresting or too difficult creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try to find something of value to you.
  • Criticizing the speaker's delivery style or mannerism draws attention away from the subject matter and towards the speaker.
  • Getting over-stimulated by something the speaker says makes the listener lose other pertinent information. There will be plenty of time to process the information later.
  • Wasting time and daydreaming is distracting. Don't stop listening.

Communication Style. All individuals fall within four communication styles: action, process, people, and idea. Effective speakers know their personal communication style as well as their audience's. The most effective way to communicate is to recognize other people's styles and talk to them on their own level. For example, people with an "action" communication style will talk about results and objectives. They are down to earth, direct, and impatient. The table below summarizes the different communication styles and their associated "content" and "process" characteristics to recognize when speaking or listening to others.

StyleContent (They talk about: . . . )Process (They are: . . . )
Action results, objectives, performance down to earth, direct, impatient
Process facts, procedures, planning factual, systemic, logical
People people, communication, feeling spontaneous, warm, empathetic
Idea concepts, possibilities, issues imaginative, unrealistic, full of ideas

The styles and characteristics in the table are guidelines for better communication skills. In fact, they are at the heart of developing better listening habits and communication skills that could last a lifetime.

This information comes from a presentation by Dr. Joseph Greenberg, Professor of Education at the George Washington University, during the 1996 OPM National Performance Management Conference.

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