by Kyle Morrow

(Editor’s Note: Huge thanks to Kyle Morrow for taking the time to share these 5 lessons with WOHM. Kyle studied Entrepreneurship and Finance at Oregon State University, and gives lectures on these five lessons in classrooms throughout Oregon. Since graduating, he started ThirstTees–a clothing company that works with Thirst Relief International to provide clean water options to people in Africa and South America. To learn more about Kyle and ThirstTees visit their or email Kyle directly at #OutHere)

Life is built on relationships.  Relationships are built on communication.  If you are not able to communicate effectively with the people around you, then you are going to have a difficult path through life.  As I mentioned in my last post  for We Out Here Magazine, 80% of jobs are found in the informal job market (networking).  I also came across a stat that 82% of couples, happy or not, wish their partner was more willing to share their feelings.  Great communicators simply have healthier relations and more opportunities in their life.  Here are three questions to ask yourself is order to assess your communication skills.

Link to 82% stat

1) Where is your focus?

Bill Clinton is famous for his communication.  A lot of people attribute his tremendous success to his world class interpersonal skills.  One of his many tricks is his ability to maintain eye contact.  We all know that we should look at a person when we are talking to them but this goes far deeper.  When you are able to maintain eye contact in an effective way you are sending off two distinct signals.

1) Confidence – If you can hold another persons gaze then you are signaling to them that you are comfortable with who you are.

2) Respect – The goal is to make the person feel like they are the only one in the room.  During a conversation, nothing else should be more important than that conversation.  Your phone, the TV and the people around you should all be completely ignored.

A lot of people underestimate the importance of eye contact, but think about what you are signaling when you don’t make eye contact.  When avoiding a persons gaze, you are showing them that you are timid and uninterested.  If you were an employer, friend or spouse, which would you respond better to?

Your gaze signals a lot more than you think it does.

On a more practical note, maintaining eye contacat can often be tricky.  People will sometimes forget personal space and seem creepy.  I once heard a simple rule that has worked effectively for me: when listening, look at the person 100% of the time, when talking, look at them 50% of the time.  When listening, nothing is more important than the person.

2) Do you first seek to understand and then to be understood? 

A good friend of mine once taught me that above all else, people first seek to be understood.  Whenever you are communicating with someone, they have a message, thought or idea they are trying to convey.  Both people have the goal of trying to get the other to understand their message.  Most people think that the best communicators are the ones that are able to explain their thought or idea in the clearest form possible.  However, the best communicators first seek to understand and then to be understood. Stephen Covey explains this concept in depth in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

During a conversation, we will often listen in a passive form so that we can find information that reinforces our own message.  We pick and choose which of their comments supports what we are trying to say.  We are not seeking to understand the other person, but instead forming our own thoughts in order to convey OUR MESSAGE.  Instead of seeking to understand, we redirect their message into our own.  If you are both struggling to be understood, then who is actually doing the listening?  One proverb says, a fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions.

If you are seeking to understand the person, you are also allowing them to do more of the talking.  You are forced to ask more questions in order to completely understand.  NEVER ASSUME you understand.  If you assume you know what the person is trying to say, you are setting yourself up for trouble.  Be sure to ask CLARIFYING QUESTIONS.  Try and restate the message back to the person.  “So what your saying is …” They will tell you if you are wrong.  Only after they respond positively to a clarifying question do you begin to explain your message, if at all (more on that in number 3).

3) Are you anxious to be right?  

We all have people in our life that we love to share our problems with.  We always feel better after the conversation and usually leave with some great advice.  One reason why they are able to do this is because they seek to understand you. However, they take it one step further.  They deliver their message in the correct way.  They make sure that the person is open and receptive to the message before they provide it.  We are often so anxious to be right that we deliver our message at the wrong time and in the wrong manner.  The best advice is useless unless it is delivered correctly.  Wise people deliver a great message but also at the right time. Did the person feel understood before you tried to offer the help?  Did you then ask them if they wanted your opinion on how to solve it?  Have the restraint to hold onto your message until the person is ready to hear it.

This is HUGE for guys.  I mess this up all the time.  Guys want to jump straight to fixing the problem and skip over step two where they first SEEK TO UNDERSTAND.  Even if a person makes the effort to complete step two, sometimes people (often woman) will still not want your advice. They do not want to fix the problem, they just want to be understood.  Have the restraint to wait.  If you try and offer your advice or opinion too soon, you have waisted it.  They won’t be receptive and they will feel like you don’t respect them enough to LISTEN.  They will get the advice from a friend when they are ready to hear it and come back telling you all about the great advice.  You will be left thinking “I told you that yesterday.”  If its not the right time, keep your mouth shut.  And also remember, there may NEVER be a right time.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that is has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw