Good communication skills can prevent relationship meltdowns, workplace failures and remove obstacles that prevent a team from being successful. The Stop-Look-Listen framework helps improve communication at work.
1. Bring intentionality into stopping
When someone approaches you and needs to talk to you, stop what you are doing. No matter how good you think you are at multitasking the truth is that the human brain is not good at it.
Stopping applies even when you work from home and your dog or your toddler comes to your side and demands your attention. When a colleague calls you or if you are having a video call, give them your undivided attention. Do not read or write emails during conference calls, play solitaire or scroll through your Instagram. Just like in traffic, stopping actually means stopping, not slowing down.
Stopping requires intentionality. Unless you bring your awareness into situations when someone is trying to communicate with you, you will not stop. If you do not stop, the subsequent steps will not happen either.
You may get by without stopping many times. Misunderstandings may be minor or a good enough understanding may be reached with limited focus. Imagine how much better and more efficient communication in your workplace can be if you stop everything else you are doing to intentionally shift your focus to the speaker?
Sometimes we are under so much pressure at work that we do not feel that we have time to stop. We feel that stopping wastes precious time. Let’s change the perspective, nonetheless, and ask yourself, how much time are you wasting by not stopping? How much time could you save by focussing one on task at a time?
Your team may be doing well but could they do even better.
2. Look at the speaker
According to some estimates, nonverbal communication is somewhere between 70-93 percent of all communication. Let’s stop there for a moment. Most of the information the speaker is giving you is nonverbal.
When someone comes to talk to you, look at them. Raise your gaze from your screen and look at the speaker. Observe their facial expressions, body language and posture. What do you notice? Do the words match the facial expressions, movements, tone? If not, maybe you need to ask a few questions to clarify the mismatch.
In online meetings or in phone calls you see very little or not at all of the speaker and it is more difficult to understand their nonverbal communication. You need to work harder, ask if you are not sure and accept that miscommunication will happen.
When we are busy there is a temptation to try and take shortcuts and focus on action rather than understanding. This may feel like a wise use of time but often backfires. Be disciplined about clarifying and understanding, even if you are in a hurry.
3. Listen to understand
The third step in this framework is to listen. You are not listening if you are quiet yet formulating your answer in your mind you are. Listening is focusing on what is being said and doing your best to understand, especially if you disagree. If you struggle with this, take notes.
Here is something couples therapists know and teach their clients: When we feel heard and understood we are more likely to be willing to understand another perspective and cooperate.
If you feel that you are not being heard, rather than speaking louder, demanding attention, or becoming resentful, start by listening more. Let the speaker realize that you are listening and trying to understand. Check with them if you have understood their point of view.
If the speaker feels understood, there is a bigger chance that they are open to listening to your point of view as well.
Trouble at work and at home starts when we feel misunderstood and unheard.
Communication is a skill that can be learned
If you recognize that communication in your team is not optimal and leads to mistakes and tension, it is time to reflect on how to improve communication. It is a skill that can be taught and learned.
Good communication is not rocket science. It is based on bringing intentionality into communication, focusing on the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal messages, working as hard as you can to understand another person’s perspective and looking for common ground.
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This article features the advice of a licensed expert, but it is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment from a trained professional. In an emergency, please seek help from your local medical or law enforcement services.