In early 1980, the UN Security General flew to Iran to deal with the hostage situation, saying he was coming as a mediator to work out a compromise.
Alas, the word “mediator” was translated as meddler, while “compromise” was referred to as meaning the more negative form as in “our integrity was compromised.” Within an hour of the broadcast his car was being stoned by angry Iranians (from “Getting to Yes” by Fisher & Ury).
We deal every day with miscommunication and assumptions. At the least, they mess with our work, our home life and our relationships. At the worst, they incite wars. I taught a seminar last month on just this subject, and found that most people are ready for an inspiring refresher on communication skills.
We all get into our ruts, assuming people will understand us, especially if we’ve known them for a while, or work with them every day. It isn’t always the case. Here are a few tips to enhance the chances of being interpreted correctly in your verbal, written and non-verbal communications.
Recognize that different people need different forms of communication. Before opening your mouth or writing a note, take into account these six factors and tailor your words accordingly:
A 4-year-old will hear it differently than a 40-year-old or an 80-year-old. Remember who the audience is.
Men and women do think and listen differently, and how they hear what you say will be affected by subliminal things, like physical attraction or dominance issues. Attempt gender neutrality in a work setting.
Education and experience affect interpretation. Don’t choose a written form of communication with a group that doesn’t like to read, or won’t understand what you’re saying.
If English is not their first language, use simpler versions of words spoken clearly. For instance, don’t say “we need to improve the status of this clutter situation,” when you could just as easily say “I need you to move the boxes today.”
We approach our boss differently than our spouse, employee or child. Examine what your status is in the communication role.
Yours and the other person’s! If the listener is intimidated by you, they won’t hear what you’re saying and vice versa. Use body language and where you stand as a way to avoid making someone feel so insecure they miss the point.
Use techniques that enhance communication:
Tell a Story
People learn more easily and listen better if it’s related to reality. Use a true-life situation to get the message across. Remember Aesop’s Fables? Everyone understands the moral of the story.
Act like you know what you’re talking about.
This includes good eye contact and appropriate non-verbal communication. The way you stand and where your arms are says a lot about how you feel. In addition, stop and think about what you’re going to say before launching into anything.
Dress the Part
Look like you know what you’re talking about.
People are much more casually dressed than they used to be, but the way you look helps determine how people react to you and how you feel about yourself.
Identify the other person’s communication needs and adapt to them.
If they don’t understand big words, don’t use them. If they need something written, write it down. You cannot use the same communication method with everyone. At work you may have to use several forms of communication to reach your audience. They may include a combination of:
D) Bulletin boards
G) Social occasions
H) Casual conversations
I) Written warnings
And others. Find your best mediums for the person, the situation and the message.
Don’t respond until you’ve heard everything they need to say.
When you argue, people put up defenses. When you talk too soon, you may not have completely heard the question. Practice silence and listening skills.
Clarify the message. Don’t think you understand until you actually do. Don’t assume anything before making sure. When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and Me!
People hear only the emotion, and not what you’re trying to say.
Children and employees will be intimidated by the anger and your message will be lost in the emotion. Take a moment to be clear about your point and don’t bring past grievances or anger into the current situation.
Make Everyone Win
Make bosses and subordinates look great and you will, too.
Don’t miss an opportunity to compliment people and help them do their jobs better. Make it your goal each day to make someone feel good.
If a person can choose, they don’t lose their power, or as the Chinese say, “save face.” When my toddler step son decided baths were not for him, we stopped asking him if he was ready for a bath and began saying, “It’s bath time now, do you want bubbles or no bubbles?” This made it clear what the goal was, while still giving him some power in the situation.
Know ahead of time what your goal is and go for it.
Until you have completely identified what you’re going after, you can’t possibly get there.