Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Is what you're saying what others are hearing?

I’m so GLAD to be here today.

I’m so glad to be HERE today.

I’m so glad to be here TODAY.

Yes, that was the same sentence — three different times. But does each instance of it say the same thing? Not at all. What makes the difference? The word being emphasized in each sentence.

With "I’m so GLAD to be here today," the emphasis is on being glad — not happy, excited, frustrated, or upset. Clearly, the point is I’m glad about being here.

With "I’m so glad to be here TODAY," the emphasis is on when I’m here — today. Not tomorrow, not next week. I’m happy to see you on this very day.

Why are these distinctions important?

Well, in verbal communication, what you say has everything to do with how you say it. And how you say things has a lot to do with what people hear, when you speak.

I don’t know about you, but personally, I’m very skeptical about statistics. I’m always impressed when people use statistics in their presentations, speeches, and articles — but not because I believe the statistics. Rather, I think the use of statistics indicates that they did some research.

Depending on which research you believe, anywhere from 70 to 93 percent of our communication relies on something other than our words themselves. Any way you slice that, more than half of what we say is conveyed through our body language — eye contact, hand gestures, posture, tone of voice, etc.

So when you talk to people, are you saying what you think you’re saying? And, more importantly, are others hearing what you think you’re saying?

What if I were to stand in front of you and say, "I’m so glad to be here today," with my arms crossed, and a pouty, irritated look on my face? Would I really be saying I was glad to be here?

What if I were to say it with my back turned to you? What do you think that would mean??

We convey much of our message by how we say what we say.

But what about the message itself — the kernel of the conversation? How clearly are we delivering our ideas? How sure are we that people are understanding the message we think we are conveying?

Do you remember the Andy Griffith TV show? Almost invariably, the plot revolved around some breakdown in communication. I used to think Opie was the stupidest kid on the planet . . . if he had only managed to speak up in so many instances, he could have saved himself and "Pa" a lot of grief. Sure it makes (made??) for humorous TV, but it's a different story when we have those kinds of communication breakdowns in real life — yet life is full of them.

One place, in particular, where this is noticed is in the conversation between men and women. Innumerable jokes, books, TV shows, and movies are dedicated to the "he-said she-said" that goes on when men and women try to communicate with each other. Part of this stems from the fact that men generally are doers while women are talkers — but more of it comes from the fact that although we know what we want to say, what we do say, what we expect the other person has heard us say, almost never do we stop to make sure that what we said is what they heard.

Word values play a role here, too. In the English language, we have so many options for ways to say a lot of things. Take the idea of "happiness," for instance. Think about all the words that have roughly the same meaning. If you were to put them in order, from weakest to strongest, the word values might look like this:

* OK * Fine * Glad * Pleased * Happy * Delighted * Joyful * Gleeful * Giddy * Excited * Overjoyed * Thrilled * Jumping up and down *


Happy is sort of just a generic middle-ground term.

And look at the difference in value between "joyful" and "overjoyed."

So what kinds of words are we using when we speak? And do we mean the words we speak? Some women have a bad habit, when asked, "Are you OK?" of saying what? "I’m fine," when clearly they are not fine.

Lesson number one for all of us: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you’re not fine, but you say you are — even if your body language says something else entirely — it’s not fair to get enraged with someone for not reading your mind, for not reading between the lines, for not discerning that when you said you were fine, you really meant you were having a very bad day.

So how do we improve our communication? How can we be sure others are really hearing what we are saying. I’m not sure we can.

There’s a technique in conversation called "mirroring." This means that, as the listener, you repeat back what you heard the other person say, to be sure you understood them. In effect, you’re making sure you heard what they thought they were saying. This is a clear sign of a great listener.

But we won’t always have the luxury of communicating with highly skilled listeners.

Sometimes, the people we most need to communicate with are busy, irritated, or so wrapped up in their own worlds that hearing the message we intend to communicate gets lost in the process.

That’s why the onus is on the communicator to make sure your listener not only heard — but understood — what you were saying. Speak clearly. Speak slowly. Choose your words carefully. And, if at all possible, confirm from your listener what they understand you to be saying.

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This was my "Your Body Speaks" speech for my Toastmasters club. Airpark Toastmasters meets every Thursday at noon at the University of Phoenix campus located at Raintree & 101 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Check the TV monitor in the vestibule for the room number. Guests are always welcome!

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