Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
Effective communication enhances professional practice. With an emerging trend towards optimising resources, it is desirable to be able to optimally communicate a message, clearly and effectively. This blog explores the language that we employ in our business communications and how, by making some simple changes, we can optimise our communication effectiveness. Three simple, yet highly beneficial communication strategies are offered within this blog.
Our understanding of and use of language evolves from the moment we are born. Yet, although we may learn the technical components of the English language at school, rarely are we ever taught precisely how to optimise the use of that language. Furthermore, we develop three types of language. There is our ‘every day’ language (how we communicate most of the time), our ‘heightened language’ (complex words we know but rarely use) and our ‘technical language’ (specialist vocabulary) and mis-communication can occur in all three areas. We apply what we learn from our childhood, at school, in our family and social environments, when we communicate in the workplace and during our career. In all cases, there is an element of influence with whom we are interacting. Any communication, no matter how small, will have an impact.
Communication strategy #1 – Keeping congruent
When communicating live online (e.g., via Zoom or Skype) or in person, first impressions are formed within seconds. When the spoken word and body language differ, the latter is accepted as the truth. Moreover, we react even more strongly to body language than words in high stakes situations. We cannot suppress all of the thousands of signals that communicate our experience. So, in order to present a congruent communication, it may be helpful to learn how to influence your own internal experience to be congruent with what you need to communicate. Our inner experience (thoughts, emotions) shows in our posture, our gesture, our tonality and our choice of language. Whichever emotional state you are in, you can change it to help more positively influence, persuade and direct your performance.
Whether you have less-positive feelings towards the listener, or have simply woken up grumpy, it can be good to be aware of your emotional state and, where appropriate, be able to change it, preferably before any planned interaction. A good way to do this is with the ‘Rapid Emotional State Change Technique’.
Rapid emotional state change
Practice this technique in advance, so you can use it as needed.
- Scan your mind and body for any unhelpful emotion (e.g. irritation). Give the emotion a colour that best represents it (e.g. grey). Consider which emotion you would prefer to experience instead (e.g. interest). Give that emotion a colour (e.g. blue)
- Imagine that you are gathering up the unwanted emotion into that colour (grey) and sending it out of your body on your out-breathe, releasing that colour in your breath.
- Imagine that on each in-breath, you are breathing in a mist of that wanted emotion colour (blue), allowing it to spread through each muscle, fibre and cell, just like dye spreading through water.
- Now imagine that wanted emotion colour (blue) expanding out from beyond you to surround the person with whom you are communicating.
Communication strategy # 2 – Being present
When another person is talking, are you are already thinking about what you are going to say next, or reflecting on what you have just said? Or, do you keep a part of your attention elsewhere, such as on your phone, your next email or social media post? How much essential information are you missing by not being present and fully paying attention? Missing that additional information can lead to misunderstanding what the other person is saying and even them noticing your lack of connection. This can affect rapport and that interpersonal connection which is a key component in effective communication.
Instead of being distracted, keep present in the moment, focusing on what is said, rather than thinking about what to say next, or focusing on several things at once. Be aware of what you are saying and how you are saying it. The next time you are in a conversation, work on paying full attention. This may be something that you build up to, adding each element over time.
- Allow all of your senses (see, hear, touch, smell, taste) to engage.
- Allow your mind to notice what their body is saying as well as what their words are saying. Become aware of whether the verbal and non-verbal communications are congruent or not.
- Keep your mind focused on listening to what they are saying.
- If you are able to, stop doing anything which isn’t essential. Stop fiddling or fidgeting and sit or stand still.
- Look at the speaker when they are talking and notice their expressions.
- Put your phone away, or place it face down.
Communication strategy #3 – Positively direct your message
Would you get into a taxi and say to the driver, “Don’t take me to the station” if you wanted to go to the High Street? Most likely not, yet we commonly talk of what we don’t want. It is far more effective to focus your communication on what you want, rather than what you don’t want. Be solution and goal-focused, rather than problem-focused. Where thoughts go, energy and focus flows. A positive focus is contagious, enhancing rapport, productivity and engagement. Some key words to re-consider include: Don’t, Try, and Yes but.
Don’t (use do)
When you tell someone to not do something, you are placing the focus of the communication on what you want them to not do, rather than what you actually want them to do. A simple example is that you might wish to avoid saying, “Don’t run” and use, “Do walk” instead. As well as providing an unclear message, negatives can introduce undesirable actions that may not even have previously been considered. For example, you might say “Don’t be late with that report”. That introduces the possibility of being late. Whereas, you could better say, “Do be on time with that report, although early is fine too”. In addition, negatives can become quite compelling to do that very action that is not required. How often have you seen a sign that says, “Don’t walk on the grass” and immediately wanted to do exactly what is prohibited?
The use of the word ‘try’ might seem optimistic, yet, in reality, it shows the reader or listener that there is a possibility of failure that is already being considered. You may well have heard a friend or colleague say, “I will try not to be late”, indicating a subconscious awareness of the possibility of being late. In contrast, “I will aim to arrive on time” shows a different intention. It is a word that is often used when an excuse is imminent or where the speaker is actually uncertain of what they are suggesting will happen. For example, if you hear, “I will try to get that payment to you today”, means that they may already be thinking of reasons why it won’t happen or that they are not sure if it is even possible. It can be far better to say what is known. Such as, “If it is possible, I will get that payment sent today, otherwise it will be sent by close of business tomorrow. If there are any delays to that I will contact you.”
The use of “Yes, but”, might appear as though someone is agreeing, yet it can be received as ignoring or diminishing all that has just been said, without consideration. Instead, by changing the ‘but’ to ‘and’ it acknowledges the first point and contributes to the discussion, rather than disregarding it.
Hypnotic language patterns and approaches can be used in many everyday settings to enhance understanding and even communicate more effectively on both conscious and subconscious levels. There are a vast array of language approaches that you can effectively employ in any business. This blog has offered an insight into just three of the many popular strategies available to you as a business communicator.