Most people identify listening as the single most important tool in communication. Yet if we are honest, most of us would also have to say that we aren’t as good at it as we would like to be or know we should be. If you’re in that group, here is a five-step suggestion to help you get better.

A – Ask great questions

  • A great question is open-ended, meaning the answer-optionsaren’t limited to Either/Or, True/False, or A/B/C/D.
  • It allows the person to whom it was posed to provide information about which you may not have even known to ask.
  • It may even cause the person to say something like, “That’s a good question, I’d have to stop and think about that,” or “I’ve never really thought of it/about it like that before.”

(In practice: you may need to set aside time to actually think of some great questions while you’re NOT communicating so that you’ll have them when you ARE communicating.)

L – Listen to their answer

  • That seems fundamental, but REALLY listen.
  • Think about how the information or opinion you’re hearing will apply after the conversation is over.
  • Don’t formulate your answer before they are through talking,and don’t interrupt.

(In practice: listening means hearing and processing what the other person is saying for the deeper meaning. Reduce distractions, ask questions for clarification, and pay close attention to facial expressions, body language, and tone/volume.)

I – Interpret what they say for what they really mean

  • They may not say exactly what they are thinking.
  • They may not know how to convey exactly what they are thinking.
  • This isn’t an opportunity to change what they said to fit what you wanted them to say, but rather to “read between the lines” and decipher their intent.

(In practice: Think about what they AREN’T saying, what they don’t know to ask, and what you could tell them that would clarify something common to you but uncommon to them.)

A – Apply what they said to create your response

  • Take their words, their phrases, their needs and/or their ideas and put them together to determine how you will respond to them.
  • Try to not revert back to your “standard script.”
  • Incorporating what they said into your response will earn credibility and build trust, as it will allow them to know that they really were heard.

R – Reply in light of what they said and from their perspective

  • By including some of what they said in your reply, and demonstrating that you took that into consideration, they will be more likely to listen to you…and, at that point, you’re both truly communicating.

(In practice: If you include what they said in your answer, you’ll grab their attention and convince them that you can see things from their point of view. Even if you disagree with them, there will be at least an appearance that you’re both on the same page.)

Any time you’re in a conversation or confrontation and communication doesn’t really seem to be working the way it should, remember those five steps. It’s easy to remember…just focus on being A LIAR (Ask, Listen, Interpret, Apply, and Reply). If you do that, you’ll become a master communicator, broaden your influence, and deepen your impact.

For more ideas on personal productivity, communication/conflict resolution, leadership/management, sales (and sales related topics), and team building, visit our website or contact me.

Randy Anderson