Something’s been driving me a bit crazy lately. Most communication skills training I’m seeing that covers things like effective questioning and active listening is being written and delivered in a way that suggests people don’t already know how to communicate effectively. It’s driving me crazy because I’ve spent the last few years proving repeatedly that this just isn’t true! The truth is that most of us do have all the skills we need in these areas. For example, can you:
- Ask a question that invites an open response?
- Probe someone with follow up questions?
- Listen to what someone else has to say?
- Wait until that person finishes before sharing a thought of your own?
A lot of this stuff is inside us. We just need to trigger it with mindfulness, purposefulness and just three words: LEARN, TEACH, EXPLORE
The value of authenticity
Just to deviate for a paragraph or two, I recently asked my LinkedIn network to respond to the question, what are 5 traits of a good person? The number one response, by far, was authenticity. Being genuine. Being yourself.
Now, that’s kind of hard to achieve if you attend a communications skills course that tells you what listening is in 7 dot points, or that the same kind of body language or facial expression work for everyone the same way. For me, that sort of approach pulls you further away from who you are and tapping into the communication skills you already possess.
LEARN, TEACH, EXPLORE is all about helping you find out just how effective your communication can be, on your own, immediately, without having to attend a lengthy, expensive workshop and deal with the stress that you won’t remember step 6 in that conflict management process you learned.
LEARN – The “I listen and you talk” communication dynamic
Put the word LEARN in your head and a lot of those active listening and effective questioning dot points just turn up! Try it. When I use the technique I’m suddenly more curious and interested in what the other person is saying. This leads to more attentive listening and a greater ability to “ask the next right question”. That’s all I encourage people to do nowadays. Whenever you think that the “You talk and I’ll listen” communication dynamic may be required, just have a purpose in mind, put the word LEARN in your head and ask the next right question. Now that’s pretty authentic, right? Should the next right question be open, closed, probing, hypothetical, leading etc? Who cares. Just ask the next right question and find out!
TEACH – The “I talk and you listen” communication dynamic
Put the word TEACH in your head and, suddenly, you’ll be more considerate of how the other person needs to hear your message. You’ll explain process, pitch your product or outline your position with consideration and empathy. Isn’t that what teaching’s all about? For example, I’m a fast-talker with a pushy manner. When I’m unmindful – i.e. when I forget to put the word TEACH in my head – my explaining can sound and feel more like an attack than information. I put the word in my head and my energy levels normalise, my talking pace slows down and I pause after each key point. The result is I find others can recall what I said to a far greater degree.
EXPLORE – The “We talk and listen together” communication dynamic
When I need to have a 2-way conversation with someone, I put the word EXPLORE in my head and, all of a sudden, I feel like I’m sitting on the same side of the table as the other person. I dominate less and I share more. I switch between statements (TEACH) and questions (LEARN). Sometimes I swap EXPLORE for other, more targeted words such as Solve, Close or Help. These are all simply stations on the overall line of Exploration.
LTE in the real world
So, how do you know which option to choose? Here are 6 everyday scenarios that lead to many people streaming into training rooms in search of a solution.
- When you are ambushed or surprised by another person… put the word LEARN in your head – and ask a question.
- When you are asked a question that you know the answer to… put the word TEACH in your head and you’ll answer in a way that gives the other person clear insight into and understanding of the subject.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question… put the word LEARN in your head and ask for more information.
- If someone says something that unsettles you or feels confronting … put the word EXPLORE in your head and together you can unpack their perspective.
- When you feel disrespected or treated unreasonably … put the word TEACH in your head and then calmly and objectively convey your concerns.
- When you feel you need to influence the thinking of another person… put the word LEARN in your head and use the power of questions to explore the other person’s needs, beliefs and concerns.
Time to train less and achieve more
Having used LTE for quite a while now, I find it’s usually all I need to be effective in most strategic interactions. When this is not the case, I go looking for additional tips, hints and strategies – but I’ve found LTE is an effective foundation for better communication that assists me to keep developing in any future direction I wish.
Try LTE out for yourself and see where it takes you. I hope it’s somewhere good!