Are You Listening?
Communication – Are You Listening?
This might seem obvious at first as surely everyone can communicate adequately? I think the important word here is ‘adequately’. By refining our communication skills and actually practicing something that we routinely take for granted we can become great communicators.
The first thing to realise about communication is that you need to complete the communication feedback loop. This is something a lot of trainers fail to do. The process of communication was documented by Thomas Gordan and works as follows.
We think about what we want to say/convey and encode that into words. We then speak the words and the client hears them and then decodes them into what they think they mean. This last step is where problems can occur as what we have said and indeed meant may have been decoded into something completely different. This is why in motivational interviewing (MI) we use reflections a lot as this ensures there is no misunderstanding. A reflection is effectively feedback and ensures that everything is clear and there is no misunderstanding. Closing the loop of communication in this way is a good skill to master. Now we have got clear lines of communication the other skill to master is active listening.
Again, this may sound obvious, after all, we all listen to our clients, don’t we? The problem arises when we don’t listen ‘actively’. We all have a tendency to have selective hearing as we will filter out parts of conversations that we don’t deem relevant to the current situation. Also, we are all guilty from time to time of letting our minds wander; perhaps thinking about the next exercise you are going to do or even the next client you are going to train. The problem with this is that you can miss some very important information in the process of doing this. By making a conscious effort to actively listen the client feels engaged and important. It is surprising how people pick up on how much attention you are giving them. Professor William Miller one of the founding fathers of MI often states, “sometimes all someone needs is a good listening too”. It can be very satisfying off-loading all your issues to someone when you feel they are listening to you with 100% concentration.
The final part of this enhanced communication is the ratio of talking to listening. As a trainer/coach we all tend to like the sound of our own voice. After all, our job is to impart information and encourage/motivate our clients. This temptation to talk a lot should be resisted. You have two eyes, two ears and one mouth; from a good communication perspective they should be used in this ratio, approximately 80:20. So for most of the time you should be listening. By working on all of the above you will enhance your communication skills and ultimately your clients will benefit from this. It takes discipline to learn good communication, and this is one skill all trainers should try to master.
One thing that is very useful when trying to enhance your communication skills is to record a session with a client. When you play it back, if all you can hear is your voice there is fair chance you are talking too much. Being able to recognise this when you are actually doing it is the next step. I quite regularly have to say to myself “shut up you’re talking too much” it’s a hard habit to break.
Good communication is a key aspect of helping clients on their lifestyle behaviour change journey. The first part of this journey is understanding whether the client is actually ready to start. The behaviour change and MI workshop teaches all the skills required. Once the client is ready to change, employing good communication skills will be crucial to facilitating that change.