We all communicate naturally, but we don’t always communicate effectively. Heather Baker talks us through her strategy for getting your message across clearly and concisely. We pick up messages from each other in three ways: from body language, tone of voice and the words we use. We glean most from people’s body language and yet so often we don’t even consider this when striving to communicate effectively.
For example at a job interview we prepare answers for questions they may ask us, or that we may ask them, and we think about what to wear. But how often do we consider our tone of voice or our body language? Nobody should become like a choreographed politician, but we should give it careful thought.
This also applies to our interactions with colleagues and clients. If you want to make sure someone isn’t insulted or doesn’t take something the wrong way, you need to take care to communicate your message in an appropriate manner.Our body language should be relaxed and friendly if we don’t want the recipient to feel threatened. You may pick the correct words to use, but these words will lose all value if the body language contradicts the message. It is possible to show sarcasm, dislike or anger simply by our stance or facial expressions.
Next, think about how many ways you can say “thank you”; it can be expressed with sarcasm, anger, delight or appreciation. Make sure you always get the tone right. Practise in advance if you’re worried about how you may come across to others.
Watch out for negative words such as “just” and “actually”, or phrases such as “in the first place”. Added to what we consider to be polite phrases, these can show aggression, as in: “The fault wouldn’t have occurred if you’d connected the wires properly in the first place”, or “I’m just a secretary”. Rephrase these to say: “The fault may occur if the wires are not connected correctly” and “I’m a secretary”. A small change can make a huge difference to how our words will be perceived. Prepare what you say along with your tone and body language.
The meaning of our communication is the response we get back, regardless of the intention. If someone hasn’t understood us, we tend to assume they’re not listening or being stupid; perhaps, however, it is we who are not expressing ourselves in the correct way.
To ensure good relationships we need to build rapport with people and we do so in four ways: non-verbal, voice/tonality, language and beliefs. If we can match people’s body language and tone of voice there will be a rapport. We feel closer to people who use similar words to us – be it our mother tongue or regional dialect. We also connect better with people who have similar beliefs to us; not only religious, but interests, ethics and standards. Sit up and take notice of what makes people sit up and take notice. Take an interest in other people and you will have a great relationship with those individuals and, hence, much improved communication.
Listening is also a vital part of communication and it’s not just about the words, but also a person’s tone of voice and their body language – so learn to listen and also to observe.
Written communication should also be addressed; your correspondence will be much more effective, maybe even persuasive, if you consider your reader. Use their words and weigh up what is important to them. And don’t forget social media where, again, all of this applies. Give people something that will interest them and they will take an interest in you. Don’t forget that it is a basic human right to be able to express ourselves perfectly – and effectively.
Heather Baker is an international PA/administrative trainer, author and creator of the BakerWrite speedwriting system. She spoke on “Effective and persuasive business writing” at Office. For information on the training courses she offers, visit bakerthompsonassoc.co.uk