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I receive phone calls from clients who want to improve their communication skills. They think they may be doing something that prevents them from making their point and persuading others. They blame their confidence, oratory skills and mastery of the subject but what's really at play is their ability to listen.

Listening is the toughest skill to master. It requires full presence, concentration and interest in others. It's work. Great conversationalists know that the most important thing in communication is to listen to what is not being said. Underneath the words are the feelings, anxieties, concerns that sit close to the surface, waiting for someone to draw them out. Unfortunately, we're so busy trying to side-step closeness that we forget the gracious art of meaningful talk.

The best conversationalists know the following:

  • It's impossible to have a substantive conversation with someone who is on their cell phone, reading their blackberry or doing the dishes. Superficial banter, yes. Heart-to-heart, no.

  • Do not begin a call with all the wonderful things you've been doing before ascertaining the mindset and mood of the person you're speaking with.

  • Using a conversation to out-smart is just plain dumb.

  • When placing a call, it's imperative to inquire about the other person's availability.

  • If you're cranky or do not wish to be interrupted, let the call go to voicemail. Take responsibility for your lousy mood and don't spank people with (your) hostility.

  • Do you call people when you have "exciting news!" and only when you have "exciting news?" Ugh.

  • Look for opportunities to demonstrate your humanity. Don't hesitate to acknowledge what you're hearing and see if there's a way to offer support or counsel.

  • Beware the super-predators — people who call to complain, vent, gossip, malign — but never to cheer, champion, support or listen.

  • A personal call to offer condolences or congratulations is more meaningful to the listener than an email message containing the same information.

  • …and a phone call from a cell phone to offer condolences is totally déclassé. Totally.

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© Copyright 2008 Ellen Lubin-Sherman


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