Has there ever been a time in which you shared something so clearly and yet, you were met with blank faces of confusion? It was almost as though you were speaking in an entirely different language? Those blank stares are the same looks that I gave my uncle once when he said that he booty called me. I was looking at my uncle with the facial embodiment of the famous quote from Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride), “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

See, my uncle meant to communicate one thing, that he butt-dialed me, but the words he chose to use meant something completely different to me. While they made sense to him, they were in fact very hard for me to wrap my brain around. So it stands to reason that when communicating with someone that its always a good idea to listen before you speak. It’s important to make sure that both parties are on the same page otherwise confusion is bound to occur. What do we mean by listening first? Well, it’s really 3 things:

  1. Listen before you speak. Listen to how your audience communicates with each other. If you’ve ever observed a group of preschool kids playing together, then it’s easy to pick up that 6-year-olds have their own language. So if ever you were to engage with a 6-year-old, you wouldn’t speak to them like they are your colleagues at work. You’d listened to them before you ever spoke to ensure that they could understand you. It’s vitally important that you consider the environment, culture, and context of your customers before you seek to build a line of communication. This will safeguard you from making mistakes and errors as things are lost in translation.
  1. Listen as you speak. One of the most important components of communication is listening while you are speaking. So much of communication is nonverbal and effective communicators can read those they are speaking to even while they are communicating. Nonverbal communication refers to the gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact (or lack thereof), body language, posture, and other ways people can communicate without using language. Research shows that about 85% of what we communicate is nonverbal and these are all areas to assess our effectiveness in communication. Are they engaged, energized, full of questions or staring off into the distance thinking of something else? Good communicators can listen to their audience while they speak.
  1. Listen after you speak. All to often we enter a conversation ready to tell someone something rather than have a conversation. Conversations have a back and forth, a give and take, that places both parties on equal footing. Conversations are mutual and both parties enter into them hoping to learn something while also telling someone something from their perspective. While it can have its place, is easily abused so that feedback is squashed. Good communication is open to feedback and push back.

Writer Gloria Steinem is quoted as saying, “Being misunderstood by people whose opinion you value is the most painful.” In business, the margins to success can be razor-thin at times so communication can make or break a deal. If you’re making a point to listen before, during, and after you speak, then you’re giving yourself the best shot at success with your customers.