Communicate with Clarity and Precision: Five Steps to Improve Your Efficacy
Can You Still Hear Me, Now?
Over-connected. In the history of human life, we have never been so connected to one another. In fact, with the explosion of the internet and social media, social scientists caution on the impact to our over-connected brains.
Per Brandwatch, the world’s leading social intelligence company:
- LinkedIn has 500 million members
- Facebook has 2.4 billion monthly active users
- Twitter has 1.3 billion accounts
- Instagram has 800 million monthly active users
- YouTube sees around 1,148 billion mobile video views per day
With all this connection, even the most efficient communicators are taxed. According to Gigoam, an international digital tracking firm, Americans consume 31.4 gigabytes of data monthly, primarily on mobile devices. How does that equate to words? Statistically, that’s roughly 100,000 words per day, on average, that Americans consume. Wow!
As technology brings more avenues for communication to our personal and work lives, it’s important for lawyers to keep an eye on their personal communications practices to remain effectual.
In a reasonably short timeframe, people have gone from snail mail to email to messaging each other via social media platforms. And, our society has embraced the new ways of communication in everyday life. The fun fact remains that we are caught in an evolving new normal.
A 2014 Gallup surveyed 1,015 people on how frequently they used various communication methods the previous day. Seventy-three percent of respondents reported they had read or sent a text every day. Eighty-two percent had made a phone call on a cell phone. Seventy percent had sent or received an email, and 55 percent had used social media to communicate.
Recognizing that communications platforms continue to emerge with essentially an infinite number of data and media messages incessantly bombarding us, we must be highly sensitized to our communication styles if we ever want to be heard by our desired audiences.
Lawyers rely greatly upon the spoken word in their work so perfecting their communication style is a wise investment.
Below are five quick tips:
- Think before you speak. No, really. Humans have a tremendous capacity to listen, absorb and respond to messages at a relatively high rate. Because of this, it is very tempting to get caught up in the fast-paced process (depending upon in what part of the country you live) and instead of actively listening and absorbing your audiences’ messages, you volley back and forth in the interaction, sometimes faster than your mind can compute.
To become a more effective communicator, one must demonstrate a disciplined approach in your oral communications. Before responding too quickly, put the brakes on to consider the impact of your words, verifying whether it is in your or your audience’s best interest to respond so quickly as to either short circuit the communications process and/or suffer the consequences of an ill-timed response. We adapt a 20-second rule. Before you respond, take 20 seconds (at minimum) to consider the implications of your words. Better to be a bit delayed with our response than to kick ourselves later for the words that impulsively escaped through your lips.
- Consider your audience. The same message is not appropriate for every audience. As a private practicing lawyer, what you say to a referral source about your legal focus may be different then how you would explain it to a client or contact. The question to ask is “why would anyone care”? and “what is most important to my audience”? Let these questions guide your communications, both verbal and written.
- Listen first and second, and then speak. We do not learn when we are speaking. It is imperative that as professional services providers that we actively listen to our audience to learn how we may help them.
- Remove distractions immediately. Check the room temperature and light and sound in the room and within proximity. Create a positive environment in which to assure maximum attention and exchange of ideas.
- Turn off your mobile device (even on vibrate, it can be distracting and disruptive) or leave it in your office.
- Learn from your speaking partner (whether this is a client, referral source or other valuable contact) by asking select open-ended questions and then really listen to his/her responses to guide further conversation. Be curious.
- Speak to be heard; message sent/message received. Mind the communications gap. Too many miscommunications occur when we “think” we told someone (message sent) but found out later either did not and/or the listener did not remember it (message received) as we remembered sending it. It matters not where the miscommunication occurred but rather how to avoid miscommunications. First, refer to tip #1 above: think before you speak to ensure that you are in control of your message. Second, to become a more effective speaker, you are well advised to confirm with your audience that the message received is the message you intended to send.
How do you do this? Ask for feedback “are you with me?” “Does this make sense?” Adapt these feedback questions to your natural communications style and you will likely see eyes light up when you speak.
- Accentuate the positive; look inside first. Individuals who choose to lead with the negative often find they are talking only to themselves. Nobody wants to listen to negativity, especially when there is so much coming at us from the media and various social media channels. Learn the positive approach via disciplined practice and/or having a pal send you a signal if you “go off the ‘positive’ reservation”.
BONUS: Make every word count. KISS - - keep it short and simple. Do not offend your audience by offering too many examples when they understand your point in one. Treat words as the golden charms that they are. We simply have too many words in our day to waste the excess unnecessarily.
Becoming a more effective communicator requires a concerted effort, practice and willingness to adapt to new ways of thinking. There are few things more impactful than to present your well-crafted message and to be understood through the spoken and written word.