I often feel disingenuous speaking on topics, regardless of how well-read or studied or peer reviewed my content becomes. So instead of a tip, how about some basic confessions? I hope I can keep you from falling into the same pitfalls that I have found myself. These are strategies, most of which unconscious, that have stifled relationships, kept me from specific opportunities, and plain displeased others. These are my top three communication no-nos.
Giving the Long Story Long
If the prospect of wasting the only finite resource we have on this planet doesn’t concern you, perhaps just some basic logic can. Telling a story and communicating like a marketer is great if you’re making a commercial, but the vast spectrum of listeners in your world would rather you make your point clear. Whether you are talking to creative types or what seems to be a living computer, they want to know as quickly as possible if what you have to say will be worth their interest. If you aren’t adding value, then not only are you wasting their time and yours, you are essentially just talking to yourself.
If you find yourself constantly trying to regain the attention of the person across from you or they are trying to clarify with questions as you are speaking, you have most likely failed up front to answer their questions or make your point clear. An example is the classic “tell me about yourself” question. A bottom up communicator may begin with “so I’m from so and so town blah blah blah…” and bounce from idea to idea. A top down communicator would start off with “I would have to say who I am is a combination of three things: where I am from, what I enjoy doing and studying, and an array of experiences.” Now the interviewer knows exactly the framework that you’re going to speak in. This gives the listener dumbo ears, it allows them to take in more of what you’re saying. When others have incentive to listen combined with a way of categorizing and organizing what is being said to them, they’re more likely to retain the information. After all, that is the goal of communication in the first place.
Talking like Icarus
Stop going way too big picture. It is important to think big picture, but it is not your best move to speak to everyone this way. We are built to pick up on snippets and pertinent details within conversation. The longer the story, the more your audience will be trying to remember relevant details. So what if there are no details? This is what I like to call the Icarus flight of ideas: A series of loosely aligned ideas with no particular feature that ends in nothing. Talking big picture is fun, but if effective communication is the goal, you’re missing it if you talk like this. Just imagine a clock catching on fire.
Too many times have I caught myself on a manic roller coaster of thoughts and tangential idea sharing. One thing reminds me of the next thing and before I know it, I’ve created a cool band name and drafted a bill for the state senator’s office. All without the help of the person or people listening.
Like I said, creative conversation and ranting is great, I think more people should interact authentically like this with one another. Personally, idea sharing is my favorite thing to do on this planet. #1 overall activity. But this is foolish if I am trying to really persuade or convey an idea clearly. Most people are looking to hear me say what they want to hear. Do not assume every person you talk to is consensual to challenging belief systems, truth-seeking, and exploring ideas every waking moment of their lives like you.
Imagine you are sitting down to dinner at your favorite restaurant and, before the waiter gets to your table, you scream your entire family’s order out loud from across the restaurant. What are the odds that he says “what the f#%”? Moreover, what are the odds that he picks any of that up and brings it to your table with no mistakes?
This is how people feel when you skip over the introductions in presentations, rapport building in meetings, and any scenario where a general social easing is expected. Skipping immediately to business disallows trust building, emotional priming, or idea preparation for the other side. They might feel stressed out, tense up and send the conversation in a totally different way than you intend. They feel like the waiter, “what the f#%?” Even if they don’t directly express it to you.
Always get to know the person, the context of their day so far, their life, and their purpose for meeting before diving into features, sales, negotiations or propositions. This information is sometimes more valuable than the minutia of points and topics covered by the conversation. The small talk has giant returns on relationship strength, networking, and executing successful sales. But more importantly, this is an efficient and polite way to communicate smoothly and effectively.
DM or put in the comments all the ticks, devices, strategies, and nonsense that has messed you up too.