Have you ever noticed how some people speak fluent English but at the same time, they don’t really speak your language? They don’t talk with you or to you, as much as they talk at you, over you and around you – in your general direction. They speak a language which is largely meaningless to you. Sure it’s English, but overall, it doesn’t really make sense. There’s no connection, no real understanding and the outcome of these conversations is usually confusion, frustration, anger, boredom and occasionally, conflict.
Over the years I have employed hundreds of people in my businesses. And while I always look for a range of preferred qualities, attributes and personality traits in a potential employee, the one non-negotiable skill that’s always at the top of my shopping list is the ability to be able to communicate effectively. If someone ticks all the boxes – academic, appearance, experience, knowledge – but they don’t tick the communication box, then they probably won’t get a gig with me. The reality is that a person who isn’t a great communicator won’t make a good trainer (teacher, coach, mentor), unless of course, they can find a way to develop those skills.
That’s the good news; these skills can be developed.
Without doubt, communication is the single most important life skill, yet amazingly, the majority of us don’t consciously work at developing it. Better communication equals better relationships, and better relationships equal a better life. So why wouldn’t we work at it?
While we all speak English (readers of this site anyway), the reality is we all have our own unique language. The problem is that in typical conversation we mostly speak our language, and not necessarily the language of the person/s we’re trying to communicate or connect with. And it doesn’t matter how much talking we do, if we’re not speaking the same language we won’t find common ground or mutual understanding, and we won’t create desirable outcomes. When Johnnie (my tech-guy, business manager and resident smarty-pants) talks to me about tech stuff, he has to totally modify his language so that Mr. Technophobe Ignoramus (me) can understand what the heck he is trying to tell me. He often tells me something in ‘Johnnie-Speak’ and I just stare at him blankly.
The question I always ask myself whenever I’m about to get involved in a meeting, confrontation or general chat is, “How do I need to communicate with this (specific) person, to be understood, to understand them, and to maximize my chances of creating a good outcome?”
Just like we don’t all respond optimally to the same diet, the same exercise plan or the same lifestyle philosophy, neither do we all connect with, understand, or respond well to, the same communication style.
Yet that’s what most of us do. We use the same communication style in a range of settings, with a bunch of different people; different personalities, attitudes, backgrounds, beliefs and values. If I’m talking with a seventy year-old lady about an exercise plan for her and I communicate with her in the same way that I would with a twenty year-old professional athlete, she’s gonna think I’m speaking some foreign language. There will be no understanding, no learning and no connection.
I need to be able to communicate my thoughts and ideas speaking her language, just as you need to periodically speak the language of your boss, kid, spouse, parent or neighbor in order to create a desirable outcome and to experience meaningful communication. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say what you think. No, it means say what you think using language which is meaningful to that person.
Imagine if I wrote an article today on weight-loss and in it I used completely over-the-top scientific language and jargon (being that I am an exercise scientist). You wouldn’t be educated, motivated or inspired; you’d probably be confused and think I was a big tool – because I’m not speaking your language. Even if every word was true and relevant, it wouldn’t have the desired effect because there would be lots of talking (okay, writing) but no real connection or communication. No understanding.
Effective communication is about a few things:
- Understanding – It’s about genuinely trying to understand the other person and to be understood (rather than shoving your thoughts down their throat and waiting for a gap in the conversation). “Do I understand her and does she understand me?” If there’s mutual understanding, there will be good communication.
- Listening– Ironically, some of the best communicators don’t actually talk that much. Some people mistake verbal diarrhea for effective communication. We know that the vast majority of communication is non-verbal (93%), so why do we feel compelled to talk so much? I’ve had many productive one hour meetings with people where I’ve said literally fifty words, while they’ve talked non-stop.
- Making the effort to understand different people’s communication style. Learn new languages. Years of working with a wide range of people has taught me that what will motivate one person (a verbal kick in the pants perhaps) might devastate and de-motivate the next. Some need a smack around the head and some need an arm around the shoulder. Pity I’m so good at the head smacking thing. Oh well, arm around the shoulder it is.
- Emotional Investment. This simply means caring about the person that you’re communicating with. Caring about what they think, feel, want, need, believe. If people sense that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say, you will create instant rapport and connection. You don’t need to ‘love’ or even agree with them, just respectfully consider their perspective.
Even with my writing and speaking, I get a broad range of responses to the same article / presentation; the same words. One person will get inspired, one will get enlightened, one will get challenged, one will be indifferent and one will get offended. Why? Because I’m speaking one language (communication style) to a bunch of different people who all speak their own language and all live in their own version of reality. This is one of the reasons why I frequently change the type of articles I write (educational, humorous, philosophical, motivational) and the communication style that I use (conversational, academic, inflammatory, provocative).
So, if one of your goals is to become more effective at work, at home, at school, in romance, in conflict, in business, in your relationships – in life, then perhaps it’s time for you to learn another language and to master the skill of communication, rather than the habit of talking.
Written by Craig Harper at Motivational Speaker