If you want to get your message across to anybody – whether in writing or in person – there are two things you must bear in mind.
- The first is that you are totally responsible for how the other person understands what you say.
- Secondly you should concentrate on what people DO in response to your message – not what they SAY.
The secret of being understood
Think about how easy it is for communication to be misunderstood.
Two sides of a conversation can easily read something entirely different into exactly the same words.
How often have you heard someone say ‘that’s not what I said’?
Conversations between partners in a relationship often present the best – or perhaps that should be the worst – examples.
A husband meeting his wife after she has been to the hairdresser might think he is offering her a compliment when he tells her that her hair looks great.
He might be shocked if she greets him with a response of ‘what was wrong with it before?’
In pure communication terms, the woman took this comment as an insult and it therefore WAS an insult even though her husband intended it as a compliment.
The failure of communication was entirely the man’s responsibility as he has to be in charge of the result of what he says. (I’m not suggesting here that men are always at fault for communication breakdowns – this is just an example!)
In business, people may respond differently but they are just as likely to hear something different from what you think you said.
If you’re not getting the response that you want, it’s not your customer’s or audience’s fault. You’ve got to change your communication. It’s as simple as that.
And, of course, sometimes a truly flexible communicator has to change the substance of their message, not just the delivery, if they want it to be successful.
Why actions really do speak louder than words
You can have the most beautiful ideas and put them across very eloquently but if, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change someone’s mind or behavior, then it’s usually pointless.
That’s where it’s important to remember that it’s what the other person does that matters.
And sometimes you need to read their responses carefully to ensure you understand clearly how they are interpreting what you say.
People will often say the right thing just to be polite so you have to read their body language and facial expressions as well as listening to their words.
The most successful communicators work on developing their sensory acuity, which is their ability to recognize small behaviors in people – such as facial expressions – which give away what they really think.
One example of this principle in business is where you carry out research or ask for feedback from customers and they tell you something. In reality, they’ll then go off and do something entirely different. What they do is more important than what they say.
It’s been said that if Edison had asked the market for feedback, he would have created bigger candle instead of a light bulb!
So seek feedback but interpret it carefully and stay focused on your objective.
The more you pay attention to your audience, the more chance you have of getting them to hear the message you want.