These four words are powerful if you can internalise them. They appear so deceptively simple, but it is the simple things in life that are the most difficult to do well.
Why do I say this?
Communication is part of our humanity
To speak well is to communicate well. Speaking comes naturally to human beings. Most children when they reach the age where they can talk, will start to progress from their babbling to childish bantering to speaking and then to talking, talking and talking (non-stop!) Parents who are reading this and have their children along running and making a lot of noise and talking would wish for their children to stay silent, at least for a little while while daddy or mommy can think for a while in silence.
But speaking is only one part of the human equation. The other part is listening. To speak well and connect to the other party is also to listen well. Speaking is not lecturing. Speaking is not talking down to people. Speaking is not a one-way street. To be able to touch another person’s heart, mind and soul, we need to pause after we speak to allow the other person to speak.
Learning the hard way
My spouse and I learnt this the hard way. When we first had our conversations, I was listening for information when I should be listening for empathy, for emotion and for love. When she spoke, she was pouring out her emotions, she didn’t want solutions to perceived problems! Ha! The power of active listening, to not only listen to the words and meaning, but to listen to the emotions and sometimes the nuances of the conversation. How do we learn to do this? How do we take baby steps to truly train our ears to hear, to really really hear?
Active listening starts with practice
To be able to listen well, you have to practice. I have learnt from my toastmastering activity to really listen well because I have done many project evaluations. For the benefit of those who do not know toastmastering terms, a “project” is a speech in toastmasters lingo. So what I have done is to listen to many speeches and to give verbal and oral feedback to the speaker in a constructive and positive manner. What happens in a speech evaluation is that the speaker will deliver a 5 to 7 minute speech according to the objectives of the basic communication manual developed by Toastmasters International. The appointed evaluator, will listen to the speech, note down how the speaker has (or has not!) met the project objectives, areas that the speaker has done well, areas where the speaker can improve and other suggestions.
Practice is available at toastmasters
In order for you to give an effective evaluation, you must be able to listen well and listen attentively! This requires you to look out for the speech structure, content, delivery, vocal
variety, body gestures, confidence and whether the speaker has met the project objectives. You then need to write all these down, identify the key points to highlight to the speaker and then deliver an oral (followed by verbal) evaluation as a speech for 2-3 minutes.
My own life has been enriched because toastmasters makes me feel alive and connected to my fellow human being. In our fast paced, frentic and furiously stressful life that is Singapore, take time out to connect so that you can be a better speaker, live a better life.
Listen well. Speak well. Live well.