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How to Master the Art of Communication

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Each of us is 100% unique, even twins or triplets. While their DNA may be remarkably the same, they’re not absolute clones of each other. There will still be a few variables that will make them unique, even if they look remarkably similar. So what about the rest of us? We’re all different, from our DNA to our physical size, skin color, background … everything.

And yet we too often act as though how we see the world is the way everyone does. We use terms we understand, we write as we would want to see it, and we’re often surprised to find out that someone else “misunderstood” us when we thought we were being so clear!

I’m sure most of us can remember at least one time – either in a personal or professional area – when we were misunderstood or we didn’t understand someone else. Did we lay blame on the other person, certain that we couldn’t have made such an error? Did we take it upon ourselves to straighten things out? Did we take the time to learn from it or just move on?

Success wears many hats, and one of them is clear communication – clear to the sender and the receiver. If we can’t be clear, we can get a reputation for being difficult to deal with, and who needs that?  

Here are three ways to strengthen your communication skills, which will give you more of the results you want, and help you look and sound like someone others want to be around.

1. Use this version of the KISS acronym

Keep it short and simple. Many of us prefer to use “utilize” rather than “use,” but there’s no need to do that, especially in business writing. We don’t need to be a walking version of a thesaurus. Simple, easily understood language works best in most cases.

2. Be clear about your timeframes

Steer clear of terms like “soon,” “later,” or especially ASAP. That acronym (as soon as possible) has led to many unexpected results. Your thought may be “by tomorrow at 5,” but the other person’s might be “when I get to it.” Without clarity, there could be a tough conversation later about why something was done late or too quickly.

As an example: Recently a group received this message: “If we didn’t already send the new policy out to everyone, we need to do it asap!”

The person in charge of sending stuff out did just that within an hour. But the intent of the note was only to find out if we had already sent the policy out. If we hadn’t, we would then do so with a note explaining why it was being sent out now.

“Communication is power. Those who have mastered its effective use can change their own experience of the world and the world’s experience of them. All behaviour and feelings find in their original roots ini some form of communication.” – Tony Robbins

3. Reinforce the wanted behavior

Many of us have heard others (maybe ourselves?) say: Don’t forget to … do whatever. But how many times has the person hearing it promptly done just that? Forgotten to do it? And yet, they were actually doing exactly what they heard, which was the wrong verb. Verbs are powerful words, often indicating action, and our brain responds to them very well, even if incorrectly in some cases.

Years ago, I heard a young woman at a swimming pool do something I thought was remarkable. Her kids, along with several others, were running around as kids do – which is a dangerous thing at a swimming pool – and instead of saying “Kids! Stop running!” she called out, “Kids! Walk slowly, please!”

The result? The kids stopped as though they’d hit a wall. They walked. Of course, being kids, they also finally started running again. And each time, she repeated in a friendly voice, “Kids! Remember to walk!” I was astonished, so I asked her about what she’d said. She told me she was a grade school teacher, and she’d learned over time that telling kids what not to do reinforced them doing just that: what she didn’t want! Ending her request with a verb that was the opposite of what she was asking was doing immense harm. Saying “Don’t run!” actually caused the kids to continue running most of the time.

She learned to focus on the result she wanted – telling them to sit, or read, or line up for recess – whatever she was looking for, and it worked. The other upside to this is that no one felt accused of being about to do the wrong thing. The minute we say “Don’t forget to send out the memo,” our voice may well sound accusatory, especially if this is a typical issue. And even if our voice is steady, it’s entirely possible the listener may think, “What! Does she really need to tell me that? When have I ever forgotten?”

Airline personnel are experts in knowing to never say “Don’t panic!” when something scary happens like suddenly dropping several hundred feet, because it would plant the very seed they do not want. So they focus on the positives, on the needed results, helping the passengers stay calmer than they might otherwise be able to. They use the right language.

“All passengers, please return to your seats. Please buckle your seatbelt and remain seated. Be sure to put on your own mask before helping others.” All positive and constructive language. Of course, the passengers may still be scared, but the language is at least not making that scary experience worse for most. We do what we’re told; we don’t have to even think about it.

Clear communication is both an art and a skill, and over the years, I’ve found that remembering at least these three ideas has allowed me to build stronger and more positive bonds between myself and others.

Susan Rooks formed Grammar Goddess Communication in 1995 to help business professionals strengthen their communication skills. As an editor, she has worked on award-winning children’s and business books, web content, and corporate blogs and annual reports, ensuring that all material is professionally presented and free from grammatical errors. As an international corporate educator, she creates and leads three-hour in-person “Brush Up on Your Skills” workshops in American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills (including DiSC®). In 2020, she converted those to 60- and 90-minute Zoom sessions. Susan also offers one-hour FREE LinkedIn Profile Basics workshops to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations or nonprofits, mainly via Zoom, to help business pros maximize their presence there. She is a BIZCATALYST360 columnist, and her only goal is to help business pros look and sound as smart as they are. For more info: GrammarGoddess.com.

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