Is this thing on?
Someone's always listening
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One of my biggest pet peeves is people who don’t listen.
(Just ask my family, who’ll roll their eyes and tell you that I’ll literally stop talking if they’re looking at their phone during our conversation.)
To me, giving someone your undivided attention while listening demonstrates respect and shows you’re engaged. It’s also one of the best ways to learn about and from someone.
But the funny thing is if you’re the one communicating, wondering if anyone’s listening, you may not realize the power of your words.
One of my favorite leaders, Oprah Winfrey, famously said, “What I know for sure: Words matter.”
As a writer, I share her belief. Words have the power to support and uplift, improve moods and nurture souls. They are essential for life but can quickly destroy one as well.
Consider then, for a moment, the words you use—or don’t use—with others.
Every time you open your mouth in a meeting or sit down at your laptop to craft an email, the words you choose send a message.
The best leaders understand this undeniable truth:
Someone’s always listening.
While that may seem obvious, this fact is often overlooked, particularly in today’s frenetically-paced work environments where we’re often juggling multiple projects. Yet when you are intentional with your words, you can use them to connect, educate, and inspire your colleagues, clients, and partners.
Here are three ways to up your awareness of your audience and improve your communications:
1. Be mindful of what you say (even if you don’t utter a word)
Try as we might, it’s nearly impossible not to let the happenings of our day—the good, the bad, and the ugly—impact us. Whether it’s the delight of hearing exceptionally good news, or the frustration of discovering your new puppy has destroyed your shoe, we’re human, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can mask those things at the office.
The truth? We’re all mirrors. What you project is what you reflect, and others will pick up on this, even when you don’t mention it. So if you’re still angry about your pup’s new chew toy when you begin a meeting with your colleagues, you may send off unintended and negative non-verbal cues.
Remember, they’re still “listening” to you, even if you’re not speaking. So rather than have your team believe you’re upset with them, consider sharing upfront what happened. This provides two benefits: a way to make you more human and relatable to your team so they can empathize with you and eliminating any possible miscommunication.
2. Understand that sharing your wisdom transforms it into something even more powerful
Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight. But it transforms into something truly powerful when it is shared through your written and spoken words.
Why? Because all the wisdom in the world is meaningless without application.
When you freely share your wisdom, you provide value to others. Your observations enrich their lives. You help them think about their situations in an entirely new light and encourage possibilities to emerge.
And when you do this regularly, those most important to you will look to you as a guidepost, a trusted thought leader who strives to serve others by communicating the lessons they’ve learned in an engaging and compelling way.
3. Who your “audience” is — and what they need to hear — might surprise you
The funny thing about communication is that even after you acknowledge that someone is always listening, you never know who that someone listening might turn out to be. Or which of your messages will strike a chord with that person.
It’s easy for your communications to get lost in a sea of emails. And you’re constantly competing with a multitude of social media platforms and real-life conversations, so you never really know if something resonates.
Until you do.
Recently, and on several occasions, I was surprised to learn that my words had inspired someone and that I had had a significant impact on their life. While it pleased me immensely, these people were not who I would have thought were my audience, nor were the pieces they referenced what I necessarily considered my greatest work. But no matter. It served as an important reminder: Words matter.
Never underestimate the immense power of your words to connect with others. Someone is always listening and probably needs to hear your message, even if you (and they) might not realize it at the time.
And speaking of communicating, the ability to effectively communicate doesn’t just happen; you hone that skill through deliberate practices.
In my latest Forbes article, I share five ways to sharpen this essential leadership soft skill.*
P.P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or pausing while I wait for my family to look up from their phones, I’m a social media ghostwriter. (Yep, that’s a thing). I help founders, entrepreneurs, and CXOs craft their stories to communicate and connect better by magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
P.P.P.S. One more thing: You have great taste in newsletters—thanks for subscribing! Be sure to check out the archives to catch up on previous issues, and feel free to share this one with your friends. Or better yet, invite them to join our Illuminate Me tribe!
*This Forbes article is part of my multi-week series covering the range of soft skills and how to cultivate and apply them to your career. It joins these previously published pieces:
7 Easy Ways To Connect Better With Your Professional Colleagues (Connecting with others)