The busier and louder the human mind becomes in this ‘always on’ globally connected world, the shorter our attention span seems to get and more distracted we seem to become.
It is far too easy for things to get lost in translation when we are trying to communicate with others, whether in business or life, generally speaking.
When there is so much working against us as we attempt to get our message through, how do we know if we are being heard loud and clear? How do we know if the message we are sending is the one being received and that something’s not getting lost in translation?
Short answer: we don’t.
However, when I recently attended the Harvard Leadership Communication course with Marjorie North and Jill Abruzese Slye I learned a stack of things that I can do to increase the clarity of my message, the effectiveness of delivery, and give it the best possible chance of being heard as intended.
This was a professional development course which covered a lot of ground – I mean A LOT.
First there were speeches (impromptu, extemporaneous, and manuscript); the topical pattern of speech writing and Monroe’s Motivating Sequence. Then we dived head first into verbal and non-verbal communication delivery and feedback mechanisms, and learned how to effectively manage Q&A. Next we road tested the elements of persuasion (pathos, ethos and mythos), practiced the learned skills of listening (discriminative, comprehensive, appreciative, empathetic and critical/SIER model), and wore Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats to manage team communication. Finally, we weighed up the pros and cons of physical presentation tools and IT bits n bobs before presenting a personal story of our own to the group, which was also filmed (talk about sweaty palms)!
This group had 47 participants from 21 industries across five countries and included leaders from some of the most recognisable and successful companies we see in the news each week – I had to pinch myself a bit!
You can imagine then, that there were no shortage of great ideas shared, not just by the facilitators, but through the collective wealth of knowledge and experience in the room.
Here are a few of the “aha!” moments I had:
- The reason your message is breaking down might not be just that they aren’t buying what you’re selling – it could be any number of the following things: wrong word choice; internal/external interference; no clear goal; your volume, tone, speed or accent; your body language; judgement, prejudice or cognitive bias; incorrect interpretation of an action (or reaction); attention span; cultural differences; lack of trust; difference of opinion; status, position or authority (or lack of); conflict; preconceived notion of outcome; listener burnout; adverse content; or plain simply how engaging you are.
- Stories help the audience remember through association, they elicit emotion and pave the way for a call to action. Stories are also the most effective way for the human brain to make meaning of what it is hearing, because our brain is always searching for emotionally relevant information in order to convert it to memories (in the dark ages, this would have served the purpose of keeping us alive, as transition of critical knowledge was done by storytelling).
- Listening is a learned skill that often goes against the values that we have developed in our formative years, so it is important to practice it consciously and exercise the skill just like you would any other technical skill to improve your ability. Being a great listener is a powerful tool.
- When others are listening to you, there are five different reasons or ways that they are doing it: (1) discriminative listening, ie. reading between the lines; (2) comprehensive listening, to learn and be informed; (3) appreciative listening, ie. they are being entertained; (4) empathetic listening, to comfort and support you; or (5) critical listening such as the SIER model – exercising the Sense of hearing, Interpreting the message, Evaluating strengths/weaknesses, pros/cons, and reacting by assigning worth or value… Or maybe they are just smiling and nodding to be polite and they aren’t listening at all!
What I loved about this course was that its first and most important rule was that we needed to find our own baseline, our authentic sense of self in all forms of communication.
In the end, I think the biggest take away for me, was that an audience doesn’t separate what you say from who you are – so the person you portray when you are communicating should always be the person that you are – your most authentic self.