“I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
An old joke, but painfully true. Though we humans more or less invented verbal communications, we are still not very good at it. Miscommunication is so common that novelist Doug Adams once opined that if we actually understood everything everyone said, it would cause the end of the universe.
Jokes aside, clarity of communications is a primary job of business leaders, and one of the Tough Things First they must master. For without clear communications, employees cannot collaborate, and nothing useful happens.
Sending, receiving and noise
Radio engineers know that for good communications to occur, the transmitter should be strong, the receiver should have a good antenna, and there should be very little radio frequency (RF) interference. Likewise, with people, the person communicating (spoken, written, doesn’t matter) should be clear, the receiver should be attentive, and distractions should be kept at a minimum.
The problem is that all too rarely do these three things happen at once, and hence many office communications fail. Yet everyone has the tools they need to improve all of them. Interestingly, when leaders are good at these three factors, employees tend to improve their communication as well. Here are some easy-to-practice tips for improving communications in your workplace.
- Be a happy person and be kind to everyone: How often do you want to listen to a grouchy or antagonistic person? Likely, never. Neither does the person you are talking to. Be happy, supportive and helpful even when you don’t feel like it.
- Be a good listener: You are a receiver and need that good antenna. In fact, you have two of them – your ears – which should be used twice as much as your transmitter – your mouth. Good listening begins with being fully present and engaged. Anything less tells the other person you don’t really care.
- Don’t pass on gossip: Gossip, aside from potentially being destructive, is noise. It is “information” unnecessary to conducting work, a big distraction, and a time waster.
- Speak in a soft voice: Social media is teaching us that when everyone is shouting, the calm, quiet voice is heard the loudest. Even when tempted to raise your voice, don’t, and you will be heard very clearly.
- Be aware of your personal hygiene: This should go without saying in the 21st century. Hygiene is an ante, a minimal aid to social interaction. In the absence of it, the other person – regardless of whether they are the speaker or listener – has many reasons to not be fully engaged.
- Praise often for anything others do that is worthwhile: People who feel unappreciated make lousy listeners. They might find it not worth their time, or that the speaker is not being forthright. But when a person is valued, and told so in no uncertain terms, then they listen with eagerness. Authentic praise builds better antennae on the listener.
- Be honest and ethical: There is a reason people dislike engaging politicians, lawyers and used car salesmen.
- Never use condescending or vulgar language: It doesn’t matter how thick-skinned a person is, talking down to them or in a way that sounds abusive is noise that prevents them from fully engaging you. Filter your mind and your mouth, and you will notice those around you more eager to hear wat you have to say.
- Have a good work ethic: Nobody pines for the opinions of slackers.
- Treat others fairly: If you don’t think you are going to get a fair deal, you likely discount what a schemer tells you. If people in your company perceive you as treating others without an even hand, someone will tune you out and pull down their antennae. But when they know you will treat them with the same honor you treat others, then they want to hear what you have to say.
- Keep your workplace neat and tidy: My partner, Warren Muller, was not tidy. But he was a genius, and thus worth listening to despite maintaining an office of perpetual clutter. Unless you are a genius, you will discover that people listen to you better when they perceive you to be well organized.
- Be calm under stress: This is one of the more difficult tactics to master, but it pays well. We all have been amazed by EMTs, police officers, surgeons and the like who can keep their cool in life-and-death situations. And if involved, we immediately followed their commands. When you keep your head about you, others will too.
- Be friendly and courteous: Try this experiment. The next time you are on the telephone with a tired-sounding customer support representative, be as happy, friendly and polite as possible. You can hear their voice change as they happily engage you. Now, imagine how well that works when you are face-to-face with your officemate. Honey beats vinegar every time.
- Be engaging: To engage means to occupy the attention or efforts of a person or persons. This requires being a bit outside of yourself, to holistically connect in both the give and take of a communication. When you do so, you occupy their attention. If you are not ready to be fully engaging, then wait before starting an important communication.
- Don’t be wasteful with time: We all are born with a finite amount of time. So, it is little wonder that people dislike having theirs wasted (which is why so many office meetings are disagreeable). Know what you need to say or learn, get to the point, and then disengage so the other person doesn’t feel the conversation is not worth their time.
- Speak slowly and don’t use complicated words: Talking fast either makes you sound like a huckster or causes your meaning to be lost. Using unnecessarily complex language or jargon is in the same sphere as speaking condescendingly. Don’t rush and don’t talk above the lexicon of the listener.
- Be more concerned about others than yourself: The attitude “It’s all about me” is a lousy way to engage others, in no small part because it isn’t all about you. It is about them, coworkers, teams, departments and the company at large. Put yourself, your needs and your interests on the back burner.
- Be truly humble and forgiving: The Golden Rule cannot be applied without humility and understanding. Likewise, with true, deep and fulfilling communications. There is no shame in being human, but it requires giving as much as you would like to get if the roles were reversed. Always be human and humane when communicating with your boss, your teammates and your employees.
Originally published at LifeHack