Lately The Huffington Post has been posting some great blogs on communication by psychologist Robert Leahy (@AICTCognitive).
It's funny how most of us are so bad at communication yet we think we are so good at it and there is "nothing new under the sun" to say on this topic. So untrue!
For example I am paid to communicate. And yet I have learned that I can sometimes be vague when I communicate verbally. That is a big deal!
I've also learned that there are times when it is more efficient for me to communicate in person (brainstorming sessions can't be done by email) while other times writing is much better (strong opinions are good in blogs, but sometimes off-putting in person).
Obviously understanding where and how you communicate best has a major impact on your personal brand. Although the proliferation of social media encourages us to think that everyone is interested in our every little thought, the opposite is actually true. Sometimes the more you say, the less people want to hear you.
I got a dose of this one when I started blogging more frequently, and participating in discussion groups more. It was the Law of Diminishing Returns. I noticed that people were less interested in what I had to say. Whereas they continue to comment voraciously on bloggers who post relatively infrequently (to me) - say once a week or so.
In any case, the first Leahy post that caught my attention offered 7 reasons "Why Men Don't Listen to Women." A "grabber" headline so I read it. What an original and convincing argument. While usually these kinds of articles put the onus on women to be less emotional, Leahy explains why men have trouble with emotionality, period. His explanation is convincing: It makes them uncomfortable both psychologically (power dynamics) and physically (literally, emotional conflict causes their pulse rates to rise and "they find this unbearable.")
What a helpful article to read. Because it's not about being "right" or "wrong" about how you communicate. It is about understanding your audience and making sure that you have a fighting chance, given their predispositions. What matters isn't gender, of course - anyone can have "male" or "female" characteristics when it comes to communicating. And the setting doesn't matter either - home or work. You can be the best speaker in the world, you can be completely "on target," but if you're very passionate and emotional and your audience is moved by facts, figures and a monotone, you will be out of luck. And vice versa.
Similarly, the other post I recently read by Leahy, "How To Talk So That Your Partner Will Listen," had much good advice for all contexts. If you don't have time to read the whole thing (it's well-written and worth the time, if you have it), here is the "Cliff's Notes" version. Some of this is new, some of it is old but sound. Taken together it's a good mini-workshop on personal communication effectiveness. Here goes:
#1 - Preparation: Based on your knowledge of the person you're trying to talk to, when are they most receptive to listening to the kind of thing you want to talk about?
#2 - Say it the Twitter way: Don't go into a whole "shpiel" (Yiddish for lengthy diatribe). Get to the point fast.
#3 - Stop, stop: In the middle of what you're saying, ask for some kind of reaction before you continue
#4 - Balance, be objective: Don't make things more extreme than they are - "if you make too many things sound awful you will lose your credibility"
#5 - Be positive toward the listener: No matter how strongly you feel, no matter how just your cause, no matter how wrong the other person may seem - do not criticize them at all. Just talk about what you would like to see changed, and thank them in a realistic way (it has to be true) for the good that they do.
#6 - Clarify what you want from them: Generally if your audience is higher-level than you they will think you want problem-solving. Lower-level and they think you want to vent. Is that true? Maybe not. State what you want from the outset - support, suggestions, or help in solving a problem.
#7 - Expect another opinion even if you're just venting: The listener is not your robot. They are a thinking person. So expect them to offer you their own perspective, not just to agree with you. If you don't want input you can talk to a pillow, or the wall.
#8 - Be respectful of the advice you get: Similar to the above, but it's about your attitude when they start spouting. Maybe you just wanted to vent but you got advice instead. And you really don't like the advice or don't think the person is qualified to give it. Doesn't matter. If you want them to listen next time, be grateful.
#9 - Be constructive: Even if you just want to be heard, people like it when you come in with a possible solution rather than just griping. You don't want to end up with a Pavlovian situation where the very sight of you is associated with negativity.
#10 - Thank the listener: You've taken up their time, and their time is precious: They get paid X number of dollars an hour. Be grateful and tell them so.
Better communication, better brand, better chance of success. And a more harmonious world, too.
Don't you think?