Communication Skills – Observation and Listening Skills

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Being able to observe and gather information is probably the most important basic skill you can learn if you want to improve your social skills…

This is because it’s the base of all communication skills.

What you say is obviously important but if you don’t know what’s going on right in front of you then you have absolutely no chance of being able to influence it.

In today’s society we have a tendency to become so dependent on technology like computers, mobile phones and sat navs that we forget to use our own basic observation and listening skills…

I remember reading about someone who actually drove their car into a canal because they followed the instructions on their satellite navigation system!

This is obviously a fairly dramatic and isolated instance but I think it’s safe to conclude that most people do not make the best use of their own natural observation & listening skills.

In Western culture we do not value observation and information gathering skills as much as they do in Eastern cultures. In Japan they have a word used to describe this ability called ‘amae’. Which refers to the skill of being able to know intuitively what a friend, business colleague or family member is thinking and feeling just by the way they look and sound.

The renowned Japanese psychiatrist Takeo Doi tells a story of a time he visited some friends in America. When he first walked in his hosts looked at him and asked him if he would like sometime to eat. Due to the fact that, in Japan, you do not ask someone if they would like something to eat, Takeo Doi became embarrassed and, even though he was indeed hungry, declined the offer.

In Japan, you would not need to answer this kind of question because your host would know intuitively if you were hungry by the way you look and sound.

It is clear that, in western society, we have much to learn from our eastern counterparts when it comes to the skill of obtaining information from the outside world. We can all get lazy from time to time and take things for granted. When we interact with people we can have a tendency to make generalisations or assumptions about who they are and what they do.

A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to witness a keynote speech entitled Masai Masterclass by a speaker called Chris Howe. Chris is the CEO of a company called Changemaker and specializes in teaching large corporations the 5 key qualities of a Maasai warrior.

During his keynote Chris tells a fascinating story about a time when he travelled from Nairobi to a place called Tassia. On his journey he worked closely with the Maasai community in the Laikipia region in order to discover more about their culture and way of life. One day, while he was interacting with one of the Maasai warriors, he felt compelled to ask him what the procedure was when it came to killing a buffalo. The answer he received was not straight forward.

The Maasai warrior looked at him curiously and then started the following conversation:

Maasai Warrior: “You want to Kill Buffalo? Okay…At what time of day?”

Chris: “Ehm…Well, during the day, about 12 O Clock?”

Maasai Warrior: “Okay….In what weather conditions?”

Chris: “Well, let’s go for dry weather!”

Maasai Warrior: “Okay….and at what time of year?”

Chris: “Ehm….Summer time?

After about half a dozen questions of this nature they eventually arrived at a procedure for catching and killing a buffalo in those particular conditions. The Maasai warrior was quick to point out, though, that as soon as those conditions changed the strategy would also change.

All too often we have a tendency to search for that one technique that will work all the time, every time with every person. The reality of the situation, however, is that such a technique does not exist. Obviously having techniques and simple rules and procedures are incredibly helpful but the one thing that will dramatically increase your ability to communicate and talk to people effectively is to recognise that every individual is completely unique and it’s vital to first spend some time finding out what’s true for that person in that moment.

In fact, one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your communication skills is to open up your eyes and ears and become skilled in being able to notice what is going on right in front of you, right in the very moment and then tailor make your communication to suit that particular person in that particular moment.

So if you find yourself always trying to plan ahead of time all the things you are going to say to someone then great! it’s nice you want to be prepared, that’ll definitely help the flow of the interaction…Just remember that most of what you need to really connect with them at a deep level is right in front of you and the more you begin to open up your eyes and ears the more you will notice it…

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