Stepping Up Your Communication

Communication can be difficult. Especially at work where people will disagree and consensus is needed. Remember – everything you want to accomplish in life requires consensus and an aligned team (think about it). What people often do not think about is that most communication is non-verbal. 

I read these ratios:  7% comes from words (what you say), 38% stems from your voice quality (tone/inflection), 55% are non-verbal cues (facial expressions/body language). This may explain why I hate email and talking on the phone so much.  I am missing out on at least 55% of the message.

What this also means is a lot of people who have trouble communicating are frustrated that “what” they said is not getting through and it is usually due to “how” they communicated it.

When I was a teenager, my grandmother once said, “You should watch your swearing. It gives someone an excuse to not listen to what you are saying.”

That stopped me cold.  I thought it was a brilliant statement and true (it was the best reason I ever heard to try to become a classier person).  I never want to give someone an excuse to ignore me.

The same applies to many of these tips:

Watch your tone. I react intensely to tone. It is almost primal. If you have an edge or bark at me, I instantly attack back.  I guess the fight or flight instinct kicks right in based on the tone I hear.  Mean sarcasm (when discussing work or an idea), barking tones, angry tones, dismissive/belittling tones, etc. are all easily perceived by people and elicit an equal reciprocal reaction.  Try to discuss things openly, but without negative tones to the discussion.  The person will “hear” what you are trying to say way better if they do not have barriers up because they are emotionally reacting to a bad tone you used.

Move from “I” to “We.” If you use too many “I” sentences it shows you are only looking out for yourself, not the team.  It betrays trust.  When possible, give credit to your team first, not yourself.  You are a part of the team so you get credit anyway, and your teammates will want to look out for you in return.

Stop complaining about people behind their backs. Face it, they always find out, and the trust in the relationship is gone from that point on.  Try to address your issues with the person directly whenever you can instead of blowing your reputation and trust by gossiping.

Improve your listening. So many of us are in a rush during the day or we have preconceived notions and we try to cut the person off assuming we understand what they are going to say.  That is a bad idea. Let them finish their thought.  Then discuss the issue.  Even if you knew where they were going, they still will be more open to your response because they felt you heard them out (so they will hear you out).  The saying “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that order” applies here.

Watch bad facial expressions. Rolling your eyes, looking frustrated, etc. are all looks that let the other person know you are not on their side or listening to them openly. Their guard will go up instantly and they will lock in on their ideas or lock out yours.

Watch bad body language. Not paying attention (doing e-mails, surfing the web, etc.), crossing your arms, turning your back, not making eye contact are all dismissive or guarded signs.  The person you are dealing with will read this body language and react to being dismissed or being perceived as a threat.

Try not to sugar coat the truth. People want to trust the people they are around.  If they find out the truth is being hidden from them (or sugar coated) it instantly betrays their trust and they will not take anything you say at face value from then on.  It is way better to get a bad reaction in the short term and maintain your credibility long term.  I often have people say they are amazed at what I say and get away with.  I completely disagree with the “get away with.”  My belief is the people around me trust that I am telling them the truth, with only good intentions, even if it isn’t exactly what they would want hear, they can trust it.

Everyone does a bit of all of these things at times. If you have done these things in the past, people will come into future discussions with their guard already up.  Your goal should be to pay attention and improve over time.  Feel free to tell people you are working on it so they open up to the new you.  Your communications frustration will reduce over time and you will become a more effective leader, teammate, friend and executer.