Our heads are full of thoughts, images, ideas, experiences and emotions and we have a need to share them in order to develop ourselves, our ideas and to achieve just about anything significant.

Our species occupies the top spot on the planet because of our unique ability to communicate. I will argue that effective communication within an organization is the single most important factor in its success. If there is one thing you can do as a leader, it is to practice and promote effective communication.

Communication involves transmitting and communication involves receiving.

We’ve all watched those crime dramas, where the cops call in to the station. “Dispatch, this is One Adam Twelve, over.” “One Adam Twelve, go ahead …”. There has to be a strict communications protocol, because those radios can’t transmit and receive at the same time. If your finger is on the “transmit” button, the “receive” function is disabled. We are just like that. We can transmit, we can receive; but we can’t do both at the same time.

When we are toddlers, we are taught to talk. But at what point in our lives are we taught to listen?

Think about it. We have training for public speaking, with contests and awards but where are our awards for effective listening?

Yet there is no more powerful communications tool than effective listening; to extract meaning, to ensure clarity, and to be able to absorb and build upon your colleagues’ thoughts.

Just becoming conscious of the job we have to do as listeners is a big step forward, but to be really effective, here are:

Six Keys to Effective Listening:

1. Be conscious of your “transmit” button.

You might even do this physically, squeezing your thumb when you talk, and releasing it when you listen.

2. Stay in “receive” mode more than “transmit” mode.

Remember that time seems to pass more quickly when we are speaking, so it will seem very lopsided, even if your listen/speak ratio is 50/50. Striving for 80/20 is usually about right.

3. Have patience.

There might be some background needed in your partner’s story for the foreground to be meaningful. Imagine watching an artist drawing a picture. Wouldn’t it be annoying if you were shouting out interpretations of the picture after every line drawn? Yes, you might have to interrupt if you really lose the thread, but try to give the picture a chance to take shape before you do.

4. Watch.

Look at your partner for visual cues; they are often the color in the picture they are drawing. By establishing visual contact, you also give signals that you are absorbing, or questioning what is being said, guiding the speaker.

5. Clarify.

When your partner takes their finger off the transmit button, ask clarifying questions. Resist diving into your response yet, until you are sure you have an understanding of what you just heard.

6. Respond.

Once you think you have an understanding of your partners point, you can formulate your response based on your best interpretation of meaning and intent. If you have a skilled listener, they will be patient while you assemble your response, appreciating the fact that you were putting all your attention into listening to them, rather than getting ready to respond while they were speaking.

The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention, and it is a gift that gives back by creating meaningful and productive conversations… and ultimately, organizational success.