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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Is your communication CLEAR? Yes. When we actively listen.

Two women facing each other actively listening

Communication is only clear when an audience deems it to be. What is clear to the communicator may or may not be clear to an audience.


To know whether communication is clear to an audience requires listening. Active listening.


The A in CLEAR stands for Actively Listen. In this post we will explore why, when, and how to actively listen for clearer communication.


Why do communicators need to listen to their audience?

Communication is often narrowly viewed as the content of messages communicators deliver to an audience and the channels used. That is one-sided. Let’s expand our thinking.


“Communication is more than a message; it is a relational activity… The relational dimension (of communication) includes all of the human interactions that enhance and impair effective communication between and among communicators and audiences.”


Communication is a relationship between communicator and audience, sending and receiving ideas, information, feelings, and more… connecting, relating, listening, responding.


If this relational dimension is ignored, the likelihood of communication being appropriate for and well-received by the audience, engaged with, and acted upon is greatly diminished. Communicators need to listen to an audience to create audience-focused, effective, and CLEAR communication.


When do communicators need to listen to their audience?

Communicators need to listen to their audience before, during, and after the communication.


Before communicating, listening to the audience is necessary to learn about the audience: What do they know? What do they need? What do they want?


Whether done formally or informally, this is a needs assessment.  As described in Chapter 11 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, a needs assessment is essential for audience-focused communication.


Communicators can use what is learned in a needs assessment to create communication with audience input that will be clear as well as desired by the audience.


During the communication process, listening to the audience and engaging with the audience ensures the message is attended to, understood, and applied. Engage your audiences in discussions and a variety of interactive activities, providing opportunities to listen to and learn from them.


Chapters 19 and 20 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide describe how communicators can engage with audiences throughout the communication process. The clarity of the message can be confirmed and as needed, enhanced.


After the communication, listening to the audience allows for feedback and can be used to determine whether the message was understood and put into action. Listening to the audience provides measurable indicators of communication outcomes.


Chapter 38 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide describes effective approaches to audience evaluation of communication. These include surveys, self-evaluations, observations, games and activities, tests, media metrics, and more.


Bottom line: Actively listen to an audience before, during, and after communication.


How do communicators actively listen to their audience?

A previous post titled The Art of Listening, provided the following characteristics of active listening.


5 essential skills for active listening:


Attention

Listening requires us first to pay attention. This is essential and often very hard to do. Take note of how easily you are distracted and how difficult it can be to give someone your full attention.

 

Technology is a major barrier to paying attention. Can you give a person and a screen attention at the same time? No, you can’t, so don’t try. Imagine going to a therapist and paying them to listen to you but the entire appointment they are engrossed in their phone or computer screen. Would you feel heard? Would you make another appointment? No.

 

How does one pay close attention? Intentionally focus on the speaker. Turn your entire body in their direction. Lean in. Focus your eyes on their face and make eye contact. Clear your mind of distractions.

 

Have you ever had a young child seek your attention and put their hands on your face and turn it towards theirs to look at them? People need to feel seen to feel heard. Hmm…we also have two eyes and only one mouth.

 

Eye contact is not only essential for paying attention but also for the second quality of effective listening…


Empathy

Listening well requires observing the feelings of others and responding with empathy, feeling what others are feeling. Empathy is achieved best face-to-face because a person’s eyes are a window to their emotions.

 

To listen with empathy is to observe not only what is conveyed in someone’s eyes, but also their body movements, posture, voice tone, and cadence. These nonverbal messages add meaning to the words being spoken.

 

When we listen well, with empathy, our voice tone and body language mirror the person we are listening to. We show our concern and care through verbal and nonverbal cues.

 

When we demonstrate empathy others open up and become increasingly willing to communicate.

 

Calm demeanor

When we listen to something that is emotionally charged or possibly negative, we have a natural tendency to “fight or flight.” However, if instead of getting defensive, arguing, or retreating we maintain our composure and calmly hear someone out before responding, we can achieve a greater depth of understanding.


Our audience will feel heard and listened to and will in turn be more open to listening to us. A phrase that works well to elicit more sharing is “tell me more” spoken calmly and sincerely.

 

Vulnerability

Listening well allows our true selves to be revealed and accepted. It is not fake or forced.


Listening well both gives and receives. It shares ideas and emotions freely. It is life-giving. When we are vulnerable and authentic we are able to connect with others in meaningful ways.


Active engagement

The term “active listening” implies taking action to solicit more information and feedback through questions and verbal and nonverbal cues.


It includes paraphrasing what you heard, checking for understanding, and seeking clarification where needed. It is NOT listening to respond or to interrupt, it is listening to fully understand.


Communicators who actively listen to their audience are more effective because listening well enables them to know the audience better and tailor communication to their needs.


Listening improves the communication experience for both the communicator and the audience, encouraging full engagement with the message. Listening to feedback promotes ongoing improvement.


Is your communication CLEAR? Yes. When we...

When communicating, whether one-on-one such as in a counseling encounter, or when exchanging ideas and information with large or small audiences, putting the principles in the CLEAR acronym into practice promotes effective communication. In our next post, we will explore what the R in CLEAR stands for - the importance of repetition and reinforcement.


You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” ~ M. Scott Peck


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