Ask and Listen for More Effective Communication – Part 1

by Joel Thigpen

A recent article in AENC’s Success magazine entitled “Communicating with Style” looked at four different behavior styles and how to use them to improve communication and understanding.  A key point of the article was that empathy is an absolute necessity for effective communication and that communication is a two-way process. One of the best ways to insure successful two-way communication and to demonstrate empathy is to ask questions. By asking questions, you demonstrate an interest in the other person and their point of view and they will, in turn, feel valued and respected.

Of course, you have to ask the right questions! The process of establishing “know/like/trust”, which is the foundation for any relationship– personal or business–begins with asking questions.  Simple questions that are easy to answer will relax the other person and allow the conversation to start. As you demonstrate your willingness to listen and remain nonjudgmental, you will start the process of building a positive relationship.

By asking open-ended questions you draw out information that can give you a genuine understanding of the other person’s point of view and help to identify problems.  Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. They begin with phrases like:

  • “how do you feel about…?”
  • “what do you think…?”
  • “why…?”
  • “what happened…””

Open-ended questions also help to uncover underlying feelings and attitudes and needs and they encouraging sharing of suggestions or solutions, all which will lead to better understanding and better decision-making.  Become an expert at asking open-ended questions and you will encourage people to tap into their own creative resources.

After asking a question, listen attentively to the answer and listen for the total message. Listen to the words themselves but also to the manner of delivery and to what is not said. Ten percent of total communication comes through words, 30 percent by sounds and 60 percent by body language! Observe and evaluate body language, emotion, attitudes and any other apparent external or internal factor that helps you understand the total message. 

Joel Thigpen is a Victory Lap Architect with The McGrail Group (; a leadership, productivity, membership development and performance improvement company located in Raleigh, NC, affiliated with Leadership Management International.   We inspire leaders to engage their teams and take a  Victory Lap
Acknowledgement: “Effective Personal Productivity” and “Effective Personal Leadership” by Paul J. Meyer, Randy Slechta and LMI.