How can you communicate more clearly?
This is probably the #1 ask I get from leaders and teams. And it is because communicating clearly is a lot harder than it looks.
How many times have you communicated something to someone, believing you’ve been clear, only to have things go sideways because the communication was NOT clear.
How does that happen?
When it comes to communication we take a lot for granted. Think about how often and frequently we communicate with people, both spoken and written. It is woven so deeply into our everyday lives that it seems like something we should have all perfected by now.
But it is actually the frequency with which we communicate that has actually made it so easy for us to mis-communicate.
Here are 2 Truths and 2 Tips to communicate clearly that are so simple it will BLOW YOUR MIND!
Truth #1 Pure communication is impossible!
We all associate different meanings to the same word, because our context influences how we communicate.
Example: Chili, a simple word. But here in the Southwestern part of the US the context shapes the meaning (for other parts of the country its soda vs pop, but I live in the Southwest).
Texas Chili is a meal made up of meat and a spicy sauce, while New Mexican Chili comes in two forms, red or green. It is a spicy sauce that goes on top of a meal or is used to marinate meat or add flavor to a stew.
Now if you are not from the Southwest, this may not seem like a big deal, but just ask a New Mexican or a Texan.
Or even the word COLD! I’m from California so my cold is an easy 65 degrees. And I can hear the laughter from all of you from less temperate climates. The climate you grew up in or live in shapes what cold means to you.
We also have different emotional connotations for words so the same word can have very different emotional effects on different people.
Example: Perhaps you have criticized for something, and as a result you are more sensitive to certain words. For me it’s “quiet”. I speak loudly, which as a professional trainer and speaker this comes in handy. However, there are times when its not so hand. I’m pretty aware of this and so I’m pretty receptive to being told that I’m loud. I’m not receptive to being told to be quiet, nor being asked to keep it down, be quiet, or shushed. I have a very knee jerk reaction and feel frustrated and angry quite quickly. While being told, I’m loud does not.
Tip #1 Clarify your meaning.
In the workplace, we say things and assume people have the same shared meaning. Here are few examples of common expressions we use and fail to clarify at work:
“Right away…On time…As soon as you can…Let me know…When you’ve got time…I’m fine…I’ll take care of it…I’ll help…I don’t need help…etc”
Our understanding of each of these expressions is based upon our own values of time, work ethic, cooperation, and collaboration and so the meaning differs from person to person.
When I say right away, I will literally drop everything and get to work on something. For others, right away may mean “When I’ve got free time after completing my current task”.
So if we don’t have the same understanding of right away then we have not communicated clearly and as a result don’t have clear expectations. When our expectations aren’t met, we think an agreement has been broken, we judge, and conflict ensues.
Use the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and How to help you clarify your meaning.
The next time someone says or you ask someone to get something done right away don’t walk away; ask, “What does right away mean to you?” OR “When exactly will you be able to take it on and get it back to me?”
When someone says, “I’ll help”; ask…
- “How exactly will you be involved?”
- “What task can you take on?”
- “ When can we expect them to be done?”
Taking the extra effort to clarify meaning from the start will save you a tremendous amount of time and frustration. If you can begin with an agreed upon shared understanding then you can avoid wasting time trying to resolve a miscommunication due to unmet expectations.
Truth #2 Communication is such an integral and integrated part of our everyday life that much of our communication is unconscious.
This is the reason communicating in difficult or emotionally charged situations is so difficult, because we have to be more deliberate and conscientious with our words.
Tip #2 Be More Intentional
Effective communication requires more intention in all of our communications, written and spoken. To be more intentional:
- Be more aware of your communication style and patterns. Ask others for feedback or take an online assessment, there are a few free ones out there like this one: http://www.communication-styles.com/
- Take the time to reflect on what you want to say and how you want to say it before you say it. See my previous post on the Awareness Wheel, it’s a huge help.
- Choose words more carefully so that your intention matches the impact.
- Adapt and adjust your communication to your audience.
- Share your communication preferences and needs with others (ie I let others know if I get loud, tell me I’m being loud, please don’t ask me to be quiet or shush me).
Communicating more clearly is much easier than you think, but ONLY IF you practice. So what that means is for a few weeks you’re going to feel like a freak, or at least how you might feel when you travel to a different country and don’t know the language.
Communicating more clearly will feel like you are speaking a different language. But not for long.
While you are practicing, you have to be hyper aware of how you and those around you are communicating, then push yourself to reflect on what is happening, clarify your meaning and be more intentional.
Just like anything new, you may feel awkward in the beginning and want to give up, but TRUST ME, if you give yourself some time you can create a new normal. Communicating clearly will not only feel natural, but also improve your communication, relationships, and leadership.