Listening with your eyes

Many years ago, George Bernard Shaw wrote,

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Some things never change! The act of communicating is, in many respects, what defines us as individuals. The problem is that few people realise that  communicating is frequently more about listening and understanding than speaking and informing. 

Nowhere is this challenge more obvious than in how we communicate in business. Whether you’re a manager attempting to resolve a performance problem with a colleague, or a sales representative trying to uncover a prospective customer’s needs, the ability to listen to, observe and interpret the behaviour of others is critical to understanding their needs, motivations and agendas.

Real communication is not a skill, it’s a behaviour. And our behaviour as human beings is shaped by our attitudes which are, in turn, shaped by our belief and assumptions about ourselves, about others, about the jobs we do and about life in general.

Very often, the most compelling messages communicated to us are not in the form of words, but in facial expression, gestures, hand movement, eye contact and touch. As human beings, we all possess an innate ability to read these signals, an ability that has lain dormant through misuse.  



There is no personality blueprint for an effective communicator. Good communicators are people who understand their dominant personality traits, and who learn how to modulate those traits to powerful effect in communicating with others.

Good communicators are self-aware. They are people who have learnt how to replace involuntary, kneejerk, destructive reactions with measured and constructive responses.

Good communicators know what they want from every business conversation, and understand how to motivate others to help them achieve their goals.

Your communication style is as fundamental and unique to you as is your DNA profile. You see, real communication is not a skill, it’s a behaviour. And like so much of our behaviour, it’s unconsciously generated and difficult to control. Telling someone to alter their non-verbal behaviour, or body language, during a conversation is a bit like telling them to breath more slowly when they’re asleep! Even when we consciously change some aspects of our non-verbal behaviour, our real attitudes and feelings about the person and the situation leak out through other channels. 

It’s a pretty scary truth that, no matter how you dress things up, your body always reveals your real attitudes, thoughts and feelings about people and situations.

I’ve watched salespeople, job candidates, managers and customer service representatives changing their accents, their tone of voice, altering their posture at job interviews, changing how they stand when addressing colleagues, and trying to use their hands more to emphasise important points to customers. I’ve watched in frustration as intelligent and capable people attempt to reinvent themselves, all in the cause of becoming better communicators. It doesn’t work!



How do your managers and salespeople rate as communicators and motivators? That’s a very important question, and it needs an honest answer. Look around your business, and watch your people in action as they do their jobs. Answer the following questions:




The truth is that many businesses invest significant time and money in developing products, services, business plans and strategies, marketing campaigns, IT and administration systems. None of these devices will add one cent of value to your business without the people factor. And the value added by the people factor is driven by how well they understand business objectives and by their levels of motivation which, in turn, is largely determined by how they are communicated with and motivated.

Employees, managers, salespeople, customers and suppliers ALL have some value to add to your business. But that’s only going to happen if they are effectively communicated with, understood, and then motivated to help your business achieve its goals.