Communication starts with listening

Published 9:44 am Thursday, January 11, 2018

By now, many people have made — and already broken — a host of New Year’s resolutions tied to losing weight, eating better or changing some undesirable habit.

I bet not a single one focused on a key determinate of success — if not the primary driving factor — in virtually every aspect of our lives. That’s right, no one made a vow to communicate better.

Individuals much smarter than me will tell you communication is vital. That statement probably isn’t even hyperbolic enough.

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Communication is essential, critical, life-saving and priceless.

Anyone who says otherwise is likely too busy talking rather than listening.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know communication is all these things and more in business and professional settings. Find a once-successful business that failed and you will likely see one where the communication went bad. 

Nearly everyone has worked with — or worked for — a bad communicator. It creates a hostile or unpleasant work environment, at the very least. Worst case scenario is this creates an absolute toxic situation that blows up in the faces of all parties.

Of course, communication is critical in personal relationships, too. Compromise may be the key to any successful partnership, but communication is certainly the glue that holds it all together. 

It is paramount when it comes to teaching children, growing a community, operating a trusted government and virtually anything else of real substance.  So then, why are so many of us so bad at communicating? 

That may be the million-dollar question. Even those who are essentially paid to communicate for a living often do it very poorly. Even then, good communication isn’t enough. The question is: How do we become great communicators?

I’ve often shared quotes from Jim Collins’ excellent book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t.” Although he is viewed as a business–focused author, Collins offers lots of insights that apply to communication and improving other areas of our lives.

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance,” he writes. “Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

For me, good communication has a few basic steps that I have used and refined over the years.

First, just be quiet and listen. If one person does all the talking that isn’t two-way communication.

Second, be very clear and specific about the information conveyed, what it means and it is important.

Third, say exactly what you are going to do and do what you say.

Fourth, ask if everything is understood and refer back to item number one on this list.

Finally, follow-up to ensure the message was handled appropriately.

Improving communication skills is a constant process of self-reflection and evaluation. No one should ever say, “OK, I’m a great communicator. Now I’m done.”

If we all spend a little more time on our communication skills then our communities and, ultimately, our lives will be better for it.

“Good” and “good enough” won’t lead to sustainable success in any area. We have to strive for great communication first and build a stronger foundation from there.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Jessamine Journal and Jessamine Life magazine. He can be reached at (859) 469-6452 or by email at