Each of us, even twins or triplets, is completely unique. While their DNA is very similar, they are not total clones. Even though they seem to be incredibly identical, they will retain a few factors that distinguish them. What about the rest of us? We are all unique, from our DNA to our physical stature, skin tone, and history.
And yet we often behave as though our perspective on the world is universal. We use language that is understandable, we write in the manner in which we would want to be seen, and we are often astonished to discover that someone else “misunderstood” us when we thought we were being so clear!
I’m sure most of us can recall at least one instance – whether personal or professional – when we were misunderstood or unable to comprehend another. Were we quick to assign responsibility to the other party, convinced that we could not have made such a mistake? Did we decide to sort things up on our own? Did we take the time to reflect on it or did we just move on?
Success wears many hats, one of which is clear communication — communication that is clear to both sender and recipient. If we are unable to communicate clearly, we risk developing a reputation for being difficult to work with, and who wants that?
Here are three strategies for improving your communication skills, which can help you achieve your goals and make you seem and sound like someone people want to be around.
- Utilize this KISS acronym variant.
Keep it brief and straightforward. While many of us prefer the word “utilize” over “use,” there is no need to do so, particularly in business writing. We do not have to be a walking thesaurus. In most circumstances, simple, readily understandable language is preferable.
- Be specific about your timetables.
Avoid using the phrases “soon,” “later,” or, particularly, ASAP. This abbreviation (as soon as possible) has resulted in a slew of unanticipated outcomes. While your idea may be “by tomorrow at 5 p.m.,” the other person’s may be “as soon as I get around to it.” Without clarity, a difficult dialogue about why something was done late or too soon may ensue.
As an example, a group just got the following message: “If we haven’t already distributed the new policy to everyone, we need to do so immediately!”
Within an hour, the person in charge of sending things out accomplished this. However, the note’s purpose was to ascertain if we had previously distributed the policy. If we hadn’t, we would have sent it out with an explanation of why it was being sent now.
- Reiterate the desired behavior
Many of us have heard (or maybe said): Don’t forget to… do whatever. However, how many times has the person who is hearing it swiftly done so? Have you forgotten to do it? And yet, they were doing precisely what they had heard, which was the incorrect verb. Verbs are strong words that often indicate action, and our brain reacts quite effectively to them, even if they are used inappropriately in certain circumstances.
Years ago, I saw an extraordinary act by a young lady in a swimming facility. Her children, along with many others, were running about as children do – which is unsafe in a swimming pool – and rather than yelling “Kids!” “Stop running!” she said. “Kids! Please walk slowly!”
As a result? The children came to a halt as if they had struck a wall. They strolled. Of course, being children, they also resumed running. And each time, in a kind tone, she said, “Kids!” Bear in mind to walk!” I was taken aback, and so I inquired about what she had stated. She informed me that she was a grade school teacher who had discovered over time that advising children what not to do supported them in doing precisely what she did not want them to do! Ending her request with a verb that was the polar opposite of what she was requesting did her enormous disservice. Declaring “Do not run!” actually encouraged the children to continue running for the majority of the time.
She mastered the art of focusing on the desired outcome — asking them to sit, read, or line up for recess — whatever she desired, and it worked. The second advantage is that no one felt suspected or about to do anything wrong. When we say “Don’t forget to send out the memo,” our tone may possibly come out as accusatory, particularly if this is a common occurrence. And even if our speech is steady, the listener may well assume, “What! Is it necessary for her to inform me of this? When was the last time I forgot?”
Airline workers are excellent at never saying “Don’t panic!” when something frightening occurs, such as a quick descent of several hundred feet, since this would sow the precise seed they want to avoid. As a consequence, they concentrate on the positives, on the desired outcomes, assisting passengers in being calmer than they would otherwise be. They speak the appropriate language.
“Please return to your seats, all passengers. Please fasten your seatbelt and maintain your sitting position. Before assisting others, be remember to put on your own mask.” All language should be nice and beneficial. Of course, people may remain fearful, but the wording does not exacerbate the fear for the majority. We just do what we are taught; we are not required to think about it.
Clear communication is both an art and a talent, and I’ve discovered that remembering at least these three concepts has enabled me to develop deeper and more positive ties with people through the years.