Monday Mornings with Madison

The Art, Skill and Gift of Speaking

The ability to communicate verbally is an essential skill for most any occupation.  And yet there are a lot of idioms and expressions about wasting time talking, saying the wrong things and talking too much.  Talking up a storm.  Talking out of both sides of one’s mouth.  Shooting the breeze.  Speaking the same language.  Running off at the mouth.  Spilling the beans.  Big talk.  Talking a blue streak.  Talking one’s ear off.   There are even nicknames for people who talk too much or speak when they shouldn’t.  Chatty Cathy.  Chatterbox.  Windbag.  Blabbermouth.  Perhaps it makes sense that society has so many ways to criticize talk because of the increased amount of babbling that bombards us from all directions including radio, cell phones, television, robocalls, videos, etc.?  Perhaps.

Nevertheless, the ability to speak is one of the greatest skills — and one of the most complex — that a human being performs.  Although many animals do make sounds that allow them to communicate with one another, only human beings can manage the complex process of complex talk.  After all, fluent speech is based on the interaction of various processing components. We must retrieve appropriate words, generate syntactic structure, compute the phonological shape of syllables, words, phrases and whole utterances, and create and execute articulated thoughts. And, as in any complex skill, there is a self-monitoring mechanism that checks the output.  For any professional or business person, being able to speak clearly — choosing the right words and articulating thoughts meaningfully – is a key to success.  Are you a good speaker?

Clear Verbal Communication is Key

The ability to communicate one’s thoughts verbally is a critical part of doing practically any job.  Even jobs where people primarily working alone — such as a writer, graphic designer, coder or programmer who use computers all day, or people who work with their hands such as surgeons, technicians  or laborers, or at jobs where people primarily calculate figures, do research, or analyze information — there is still a need to be able to communicate verbally.  Seldom do people work in a vacuum.  They must interact at certain points with coworkers, colleagues, vendors or customers.  Thus, the ability to speak clearly is vital.

Verbal communication is invaluable when carried out successfully, but it can also be problematic to a business when approached the wrong way. The words used by an employee are important, but equally important is the way those words are expressed.  There are a few basic rules to help ensure that verbal communication helps rather than hinders.

1.  Use positive language

Positive outcomes are more likely when a person uses positive, rather than negative, language.  Positive language is helpful and encouraging; it suggests alternatives and offers solutions to problems. It is language that stresses positive actions and consequences.

For example, when negotiating with a supplier who is not willing to budge on price, language should convey the desire for a ‘win-win’ scenario. This is likely to make the supplier more willing to negotiate (perhaps on issues other than price, such as delivery costs or payment terms).  Inflexibility and arguments won’t improve the situation.

2.  Use I statements

I statements, rather than ‘you’ statements, often yield better results in verbal exchanges.

For example, ‘I need more information to make a decision’ is better than, ‘You need to give me more information before I can make a decision’. The reason an I statement sounds better is that it communicates what is needed rather telling someone what they should do.

3.  Ask questions instead of issuing commands

It is better to ask if a person can do something that is needed, rather than issuing a command to do it.  For instance, ‘Could you stay late today to finish that project which is on deadline?’ is better than saying ‘You need to stay late to finish that project which is on deadline.’  If the answer is no, then another question can follow such as ‘Were you aware that this project needed to be completed today?’ or ‘Have you communicated to the client that the project is not going to be completed on time?’  This approach is less accusatory and confrontational, and more likely to lead to a positive outcome.

4.  Be asssertive but not aggressive

Assertiveness states what is planned. Instead of coming across as hostile, it is a statement about something felt or perceived.  Aggression is completely different and is usually perceived as hostile or unfriendly behavior. It often uses the word ‘you’. Even when talking to direct reports, it is better to soften language when assigning work, as most people respond better to requests than orders.  Consistent assertiveness demonstrates to others self confidence and openness to suggestions, without being taken advantage of, and leads generally to a mutually acceptable outcome.

5.  Use a positive speaking style

A person’s speaking style refers to the tone, pitch, accent, volume and pace of their voice.

The same sentence can be conveyed, and understood, in entirely different ways based on the way in which it is said. People can be motivated by a positive speaking style, just as they can be put off by a negative style.  A positive speaking style avoids monotone responses, or speaking too quickly or too slowly.   In a positive speaking style, the voice is as clear as possible, and engages the listener.  This is far more likely to produce a desired response than if a person leaves the conversation deflated.

6.  Check output

As mentioned, speech utilizes a feedback loop. The brain is constantly monitoring the sound of one’s voice in real time to keep it sounding as desired. That is why people who are either hearing an echo or are hard of hearing have trouble speaking.  When one’s voice is played back with a delay, the brain confuses what is actually being said with what is being played back so that it “corrects” itself based off the delayed sound which then causes the strange sounding speech.  Periodically it helps to check one’s own output to ensure that the tone is positive.

7.  Articulate.

It is important to speak clearly and enunciate when talking to another person or group of people.  Muttering, mumbling and speaking so softly that others cannot hear can be frustrating to the listeners.  It is best to avoid slang, contractions, and body language in place of actual, clearly spoken words in a conversation.

8.  Stick to the point.

While it is important to exchange pleasantries with coworkers, colleagues and customers, it is just as important to get to the point and discuss the main points to be discussed.  Small talk, while pleasant, can go overboard and waste time.   In business, it is important to get to the point and stay on point.

9.  Be brief.

More often than not, less is more when it comes to talk.  Say what needs to be said and stop there if that is sufficient.

Miscommunication can hold a person back in today’s fast-paced, global business environment.  The goal is to be heard and understood.  Speaking loudly, clearly, articulately and intelligently is key to getting what is needed, being understood and achieving results.

Quote of the Week

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” Napoleon Hill


© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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