When Speaking Doesn’t Work, Try Communicating

Great With Words, Not So Good With People

Have you noticed how some people are great at speaking but not so good at communicating? That is, they seem to have an adequate vocabulary and more-than-adequate speaking skills but for some reason (or reasons) they just don’t communicate effectively with others. They talk a lot but don’t connect much.

Mostly, they tend to talk at people rather than with them. In many instances, they are more likely to confuse, offend and alienate than they are to inspire, enlighten or educate. And despite their (often) good intentions and more-than-adequate speaking skills, they typically create more disconnection and confusion than they do connection and understanding.

And You?

And what about you? Have you ever been frustrated with a particular person because – it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you tell them something, or how many ways you try to explain it – they just don’t get it? Or, get you – for that matter? You try to be patient. You try to be clear and articulate. You do your best to speak slowly and to be engaging but sadly, you never seem to get through. Lots of words, great intentions but zero connection. Sometimes, it seems like the light’s on but nobody’s home – as my mum would say. Well, there’s a very simple reason for all that disconnection, confusion and lack of results:

You’re not speaking their language.

Hit and Miss Communication

Sure, the conversation all makes sense in your head but the only person who lives there is you! If you’re trying to motivate, educate, enlighten and convince yourself, then yes, you’re doing a great job. If not, you might need to re-think your strategy. Some people – including a few who really should know better – use the same communication style for every person in every situation and then (curiously) wonder why their results are so hit and miss.

If you’re serious about creating real connection with the person/people in your orbit (be that an individual or an audience, personal or professional) then it’s in your interest to know (1) who you’re talking to and (2) what language they speak.

For example: I might say something simple like “C’mon, you need to do better” to six different athletes and, depending on who they are as individuals (that is, their world-view based on their experiences, beliefs, fears, IQ, EQ, age, background, likes, dislikes, expectations, emotional state and much more), it’s very possible that I might inadvertently create six different outcomes:

1. Motivation
2. Intimidation
3. Confusion
4. Anger
5. Amusement
6. Annoyance

While I was trying to motivate all six of my charges, I missed the mark with five because I wasn’t aware of – or perhaps, didn’t really consider – their individual motivational needs. In other words, I didn’t speak the right language. For them. Before I can motivate someone effectively or with any level of confidence, I first need to know what kind of approach (language, method, technique) will be optimal for that individual in that situation. Understanding who I’m talking to is a fundamental part of being a powerful and effective communicator.

Finding the Best Diet For Your Mind

Just like we all have our own nutritional needs on a physical level, so too do we as individuals have specific dietary requirements on a cerebral level. That is, some people thrive on a ‘diet’ of hard-core motivational language while some function best with an arm around the shoulder and some re-assuring words. Some will respond optimally to clear and specific instructions and information while others learn best when the lesson is wrapped up in an interesting and inspirational story.

People who only have one communication style rarely make good bosses, coaches, teachers, speakers or leaders. In fact, they tend to struggle with any task or role that requires an ability to connect with different egos, attitudes, personalities, ages and belief systems. That is, different people.

A Story

Imagine you’ve just flown into a non-English-speaking country. You’re at the airport and some serious-looking guy in a uniform has just escorted you to a small room for questioning. Apparently. You’re not exactly sure why you ended up in this position but you think it’s about the contents of your case. Fortunately for you, you’re confident there’s nothing to worry about. A well-dressed friendly man walks into the room and starts asking you questions in a strange language. Well, you think he’s asking questions because he has a curious look on his face and a question-asking tone in his voice. And you think he’s friendly because he’s smiling. Although you can’t really be sure.

He talks for a while and you look confused. You are confused. So he speaks slower and a little louder. Of course it doesn’t help because you can’t understand his language – no matter how slow or loud his words are. Unbeknown to you, the well-dressed friendly man decides to try a different approach. He endeavors to engage you with a few funny stories and jokes. You sit there looking even more confused and feeling totally bewildered. Possibly, a little scared.

After thirty minutes of nonsensical mumbo-jumbo and frustration, the friendly man doesn’t seem quite so friendly. He stands up and looks at you intently. You feel guilty but you’re not sure why? He leaves the room and now your anxiety level rises even more. Your mind races. What if they’re taking me straight to jail? What if I never see my family again? What if they frame me for something I didn’t do? It happens all the time!

Doesn’t it?

A few minutes later the friendly man walks back through the door with a friendly-looking woman. She asks you if you speak English. Your heart skips, your happy hormones do a little dance and you feel instant relief. A short time later the confusion is sorted, your papers are stamped and you’re on your way. ‘Thank goodness they found someone who speaks my language’, you tell yourself.

So, What Works?

In the vast majority of situations, effective communication has very little to do with the extent of your vocabulary or your ability to string a bunch of words together and a lot to do with how well you understand your audience. Or, more specifically, their language.

Having a meaningful and productive dialogue with a teenager (for example) doesn’t mean you need to ‘become’ a teenager (of course) but rather that you should find a way – at least for a moment – to see the world (situation, problem, challenge, relationship) through his or her eyes. You don’t need to agree with them to create connection but you do need to understand them. With lack of understanding comes lack of connection.

If you’re struggling in this area, here’s a great question to get you started:

“What’s the best way for me to communicate with this person, in this situation, at this moment in time about this issue?”

You’re welcome. :)

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