"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." George Bernard Shaw. Unlike medical doctors who get hear about people’s physical ailments, I get to hear stories of people’s communication conundrums, mostly their frustrations. With communication breakdowns come broken relationships, drama and a lot of wasted time. Inaccurate communication can also cost you a lot of money, trust me. Let’s look at the 3 basic reasons people don’t get what you’re saying:
1. They’re not listening…to you.
Distractions, anyone? Take note. If you’re talking to someone who has a cellular device in his/her hand, they’re not really listening to you. They may swear that they are but the body speaks more truth than the words. A hand on the device is directed by a brain that’s somewhere else.
You can’t always ask the person you’re talking to to put away their phone. You can, however, encourage or create a space free of distractions. If you have something important to say, the radio, television, stereo should be off. Hands on the table, face to face.
A good tool for getting your point across the first time is your prologue – the way you set up your mesage. (A $25 word for this is "feedforward".)
Remember in Public Speaking 101 you learned the basic structure of discourse: say what you’re going to say, say it and summarize what you just said.
The same applies to conversations, if you’re interested in getting across a certain message. If you’re just shooting the breeze, it doesn’t matter. But shooting the breeze, as fun and relationship-building as that can be, is not necessarily the same a transferring a specific message.
In your prologue, it’s best to say why your message is relevant and/or important to your audience. You might also want to mention any (real) consequences of not getting this message and taking appropriate action.
All of this takes a bit of time and preparation, but if you make it a practice, it will become second nature.
2. They don’t believe you.
You may have heard about this recent study put out by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. The main finding is that in a corporate environment, employee acceptance of change highly correlates with the perceived definiteness of the change.
In other words, if you mean business, people will get behind you. If you’re not sure, wishy washy or wanting approval before making the decision, you’re not going to get much support.
It’s the same with your kids. If Mom says, "eat your spinach," but the kid knows she’ll give up in half an hour, there’s no buy-in. If the kid knows s/he’ll have to eat it for breakfast (or face some other real consequence,) the child will eat the spinach. People are attracted to confidence.
So if you want people to get you the first time, you have to be consistent in your actions, which are far more persuasive than anything you say. That’s part of how you are your message.
Being confident means you accept that not everyone is going to like you or your decisions. Back to the parenting comparison, my out-of-touch parents never showed the least bit of concern for whether we 4 kids liked them or their decisions. They were very much part of the "shape up or ship out" leadership school. While that certainly isn’t the only way to go, being clear from the inside out is what makes people listen to you in the first place.
3. They don’t want to hear your message.
You’ve heard of "selective hearing." It’s uibiquitous and frankly, a necessary survival tool given our crazy-cluttered environment. You simply can’t listen to everyone and everything so you choose and you self-interest naturally guides that decision-making process.
You have choices when you know you have a message to share that you know won’t be liked.
– You can forget about it because they don’t want to hear about it anyway.
– You can try various means of persuasion (both carrot and stick variety) which I won’t go into right now.
– You can present some very real consequences for failure to adhere to this message. If your audience knows you’ll follow through, this is a no-brainer. False promises, even negative ones, render you invisible and irrelevant.
– You can tell then the wonderful things that will happen if they do adhere to this message, if they get it now. Again, the positive consequences have to be authentic. Sometimes it’s simply a situation where the primary upside is that, well, it could be a lot worse.
When it’s important to get a message across the first time, your best communication tool is the readback: ask the person to explain to you what you just said in her or her own words. Yes, it takes time but investing time in the front end saves you much more of everything down the road.
What is your favorite communication tip? (Share something specific that helps you get your point across the first time.)