Throwing chairs, tossing zingers and misusing the English language are probably not the best tactics to ensure your message is heard
If you want people to hear what you have to say, give them something worth listening to.
Sounds simple, right? If that’s the case, why does effectively communicating a viewpoint seem to be such a lost art these days?
We are living in the age of Jerry Springer, the TV talk-show host who delights in chair-throwing, bleep-inducing confrontations between people who need serious sedation and anger-management training. Not surprisingly, this kind of in-your-face entertainment has spilled over to more “serious” news programs on formerly respectable networks.
Look at what’s happening. There’s the weird rant of Tom Cruise in a “Today” show interview (which really wasn’t news except that Cruise apparently invented a new meaning for the word “glib”). There’s the printed gripe session in my hometown newspaper in which the same five people seem to be bickering endlessly. There are town-hall meetings – both in the public arena and in company auditoriums all over America – in which the greatest applause is reserved for the person who tosses the best zinger. And now there are blogs, online journals where freedom of expression is pushed to the extreme (I can’t wait for the inevitable tests of this freedom in future court cases).
As someone who makes a living out of trying to help people communicate effectively, all of this is frequently disheartening. As the volume increases, it is more difficult to hear what people are really trying to say.
Listening to different viewpoints is fun. I learn a lot from hearing people talk about what is important to them. Businesses can learn and grow, too, by listening to employees, customers, suppliers and other important groups. But good information gets lost when it’s wrapped in anything that detracts from the message.
Here are some ways to make sure your message isn’t lost:
Know how to use the language. For some people, all the rules of grammar and spelling are enough to cause hyperventilation. (I feel the same way about math.) But let’s face it: communication depends on knowing how to use the tools correctly. If you’re writing a letter to the editor, committing a grammatical error like “your an idiot” will detract from your message. There is little excuse for poor grammar and misspelling in these days of dictionaries and computerized spell-check.
Don’t let pure emotion take over. It is OK to be emotional when speaking on a subject about which you feel strongly. But when emotion is so strong that it overpowers the message, your audience will remember the outburst and forget what brought it on.
Keep your message simple. Whether you are speaking or writing, the person on the other end will remember only so much. (Think about how much information overload you have in your own life.) Rather than drift off into a half-dozen tangents, stick to the central message you want your audience to remember.
Keep your sense of humor. Humor is a wonderful weapon for defusing tense situations. Use it carefully, however, and aim it mostly toward yourself. Be willing to recognize when someone else is attempting to use humor and don’t take yourself so seriously.
Kill them with kindness. You can attract more bees with honey than you can with vinegar. My career has included a fair amount of communicating strong opinions, but I learned long ago that you can be opinionated and kind at the same time.