Let’s begin with irony today. On Facebook, the question was raised whether social media tools had helped us be better communicators. Has the proliferation of Twitter, FB, LinkedIn and other tools given the lowest common denominator the very real power to reach clients, prospects and even the general public?

The very question was cause for a primal scream.

“WE SUCK!” I shouted at the monitor. “Social tools are ripping the very fabric of good communication from the loom. Twitter and Facebook are just drugs that make you look pretty in the communications mirror – but most of us are still as ugly as a warthog when it comes to communicating clearly.”

When I caught my breath, I thought about how I might (irony again) communicate my point with more clarity and poise than just shouting in my office. Maybe I should list out the tenets of good communication and then see where social tools fall down on the job or make our tasks easier.

So, let’s do that first. What makes a good communicator?

The first factor is listening acumen. Really. If you can’t listen, you’ll never understand what your audience (be it client, customer, colleague) is trying to share with you. Listen well and thoughtfully and you’re well on your way to stellar communication.

Next up, empathy. All the time, sales people and social media gurus are just waiting for the gap in conversation so they can inject their story. That gap in conversation is there to further understanding! The best thing you can do when the gap comes is ask a question that shows you understand what is being communicated. If that question also digs deeper into what the speaker was sharing, even better.

“When do I get to talk?” people ask. “If somebody is talking, why can’t it be me?”

Settle down! Polite conversation will allow you to share your thoughts and dreams, but remember that in business the conversation isn’t about how great you are…it’s about the desires and requests of the customer. Which leads us to the final component of good listening.

If…and this is a very real IF…you have a product or service or insight that can genuinely help the person talking, then mention it. Don’t be ‘that guy’ who jumps into the sales pitch. Just share a solution that could help and see where the conversation goes. It’s as simple as that.

Now, let’s pause. How much social media did we mention in the three steps to success here? Right, none! Because before you can even try to use social and new media tools to communicate, you must be able to communicate face-to-face. That’s the real secret to using these new tools to communicate and succeed.

You must know how to communicate first. Then you can start using technology tools to share your conversations. To the point of this column, social tools are good at exposing bad communicators and do so faster than a board meeting or cocktail party.

If this seems overly simplified or still puzzles you, ask someone for help. Do so in a genuine manner and see where the best advice comes from. You’ll see that the people who are empathetic, intelligent, good communicators will be the ones you gravitate toward. They’re who you should emulate.

Once you’ve got that lesson down, then try it online. But don’t think the tool makes it easier — it just hastens the connection. You still need to follow the steps.

Good luck. I hope you’ve been listening.