Communication is the cornerstone of human relationships. Quite literally, it’s what makes the world go round.
Imagine trying to learn something new without the aid of language and communication. Imagine trying to share your vision of a better future without the ability to be understood. Imagine being in a close relationship with someone without ever being able to share or communicate your deepest thoughts and feelings.
Communication is at the heart of all the meaningful things in our lives, yet we take it for granted in so many ways. We assume that you have to be charismatic and extroverted to engage an audience. We assume that when we say something, the other person understands the meaning behind our words. We assume that the more we speak, the more the other person will understand what we are trying to convey. And we assume selfishly that what we have to say is correct and complete and focus our attention on trying to get our message across, not necessarily listening for feedback.
How reciprocal are your conversations?
Thinking back to the conversations you’ve had during the past few hours, how many invited an exploration to discover the unknown, whether it is the level of understanding of the recipient or new information about a topic? How many questions did they contain? Of those questions, how many of them were closed yes-no questions and how many were open-ended questions? How much did each party speak during the interaction?
The sad reality is that in most business environments communication has become a one-way street filled with commands and statements rather than questions and conversations to discover unknowns. We’ve forgotten the original meaning of what communication is really about. We’ve lost the true intent of sharing associated with the word. Literally, the Latin root of the word means “to share” with the intent “to make common” among everyone.
Communication is intended to be a tool for connection and empowerment. It needs a reciprocal relationship between the sender and the receiver to exist. It’s about being heard, understood, acknowledged. At the same time, it’s about validating, questioning, exploring. It’s about giving information and receiving feedback in return. It’s about asking as many questions as what you answer. Like a tandem bicycle, good communication requires two people to make the wheels go round.
Are you a good speaker, good listener, or a good communicator?
Communication is more than being a good listener. Communication is also not only about your ability to express your thoughts and feelings succinctly and engagingly. Communication is definitely not about knowing all the answers on the topic of discussion.
Communication is more like a bicycle that needs two wheels of equal size to take you to your destination. It requires an equal distribution of listening and speaking between both the speaker and the recipient. The end result of the interaction resulting in movement and action. Without action, it’s just talking.
Communication happens when a speaker engages an audience enough to inspire action.
It doesn’t mean that you need to be charismatic or poetic with your words. What it does mean, however, is that what you have to say or ask intersects with a deep desire or need within the recipient of the message. It means that the words are a tool to make something happen that is meaningful to both.
How to powerfully communicate your message
It’s neither the words nor the speaker that makes a great communicator. To inspire action when relating your message and to powerfully communicate in a soft way, follow the below guidelines:
1. Look for the ‘and’.
Scrap ‘but’ from your vocabulary and replace it with ‘and’. Look for the overlap between the needs of both parties involved.
Good communication is inclusive.
What is beneficial for the speaker as well as the recipient? What do you need that the other person has? Do they have the skills to do the job, the knowledge that you require or know the right people that might help you? How will your interaction make it worth the other person’s time to invest in an engagement? What’s in it for them?
2. What do you want them to do?
The most effective way to get what you want is to ask for it directly.
If you are the asker, what do you want people to do with the information you’ve just given them? What action do you desire as a result of the interaction?
Be explicit with what you desire from the other person. Do you need their skill, their time, money, an opinion, or maybe an introduction?
3. Stop and validate.
Most people are compiling a response in their heads while they are listening, compelled to respond as fast as possible to look more knowledgeable. Few are able to focus first on trying to understand without judgement or proposing a solution. Naturally, we want to be able to give an answer or offer advice, yet a good communicator validates before he judges.
If you are the listener, refrain from offering solutions immediately. Take a moment to verify your understanding by either paraphrasing or asking a question. Did you really understand what the other person was saying? Or did you interpret the information based on your internal filters and knowing?
Simply acknowledge the question or statement offered to you before moving onto the answer.
4. Find the right question.
To continue the exploration and to discover new ground you have to ask the right questions. The best communicators are those who respond with a thought provoking question or answer.
A question invites a response, whereas a sentence brings the cycle of interaction to an end.
When you pose a question that leaves the other person speechless momentarily, forced to think before defaulting to a standard response, you know you got your message across.
Search for questions that invite stillness. It is in the pause between sentences that insight surfaces. One powerful question is worth more than an hour long speech. You guide someone towards answers by asking questions, not by giving more answers.
5. Hold the pause.
Most people are uncomfortable with stillness and silence. Being able to hold a brief period of quiet between thoughts though allows for it to sink in and new questions to surface.
Keeping quiet thoughtfully in a discussion invites questions and invites a response. It validates the other person and strengthens the connection. It means that you value the other person enough to evaluate their words carefully, like chewing food before swallowing.
You don’t have to be a charismatic speaker to be a powerful communicator. The quiet communicator is often the most influential in the room.
Rather than trying to be a better speaker in your aim to communicate your message, focus on a mutual goal, the action required and the balance within the interaction between the speaker and the listener.
When next time you are frustrated with a breakdown in communication, ask yourself these two questions. What action do you want your words to result in? How is it meaningful to both you and your audience?
With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.