This question ever cross your mind after a rough conversation with your colleagues or boss? “Why doesn’t anyone seem to listen to me? I have awesome ideas!” Or even better, “Hey that was my idea, why didn’t anyone listen when I mentioned it the first time!” Whether its a meeting with colleagues, a conversation with your boss or a call with a client…we want to be heard. We need to be heard.
Do you hear me?
In fact it’s one of our strongest human desires. Don’t just take my word for it, take it from Oprah “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’” (from her Harvard Commencement speech) It’s not fun feeling unheard or misunderstood, but getting intentionally tuned out is even worse. So what do we do when our colleagues, clients and boss are tuning us out at work?
Know your audience
For starters, we have to consider our audience and the challenges they face as listeners. Joseph Holtgreive is an expert in personal development and mindfulness at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “Our minds are constantly streaming an ongoing narrative, the average adult spending half of their day lost in thought. All too often our minds are not fully present when we are in a meeting, we are often preparing for our next meeting or thinking about our last meeting.”
Simply put, busy professionals already struggle with attention. But it gets worse because as the day progresses, their attention span gets fatigued and decreases by the minute. Here’s a scenario: Let’s say you’re supposed to give an update to your boss toward the end of the day. But they already spent a good chunk of their day sitting through long meetings, they were interrupted about 54 times throughout and trudged through 30-100 emails. (Check out our infographic: The business cost of poor communication for more crazy stats) They’re fatigued, frustrated and have very little capacity to listen. That means we have to do everything possible to make it easier to hear our message. Let’s look at the most common mistakes we make as communicators:
4 Reasons they tune you out
1. Lack of credibility – In many cases we’ve trained our bosses, colleagues and clients to tune us out before we even begin speaking. Because we’ve built a reputation for having poor communication habits, they already have an idea of how the conversation is going to end up – pointless.
2. Forget to answer WIFM (What’s in it for me?) – That’s what our audience needs to know and it’s your job to answer that question. If you’re talking with a prospect or client, do you first discuss their needs or jump to talking about your products?
3. Long-winded – Simply put, we lack the discipline to make a concise point and stop talking. “We fall in love with our voice and talk too much” according to Joe McCormack author of BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less. (P.S. YES Joe is my boss and NO he didn’t give me a bonus for plugging the book…yet…)
4. Talk at them v.s. with them – John Wayne sums both 3 and 4 up nicely “You’re short on ears and long on mouth.” None of us want to be talked at…remember our fundamental human desire to be heard?? We have to listen actively if we expect to be listened to.
Ok it’s been tough love so far. Let’s talk about our opportunity to break through and be heard. Now that we understand the challenge before us, we can prepare to overcome it.
Baby steps to Brevity
1. Prepare ahead of time – Most of us lack the discipline to prepare which often leads to a lack of confidence and the presence needed to “command the room.” Great leaders command attention and most share a quality known as “executive presence” (More on Executive Presence here). It’s because they’re always prepared. When we do our homework ahead of time, we can speak about an issue intelligently without diving into the weeds and leaving listeners asking “what is this person talking about?”
2. Speak in headlines – A good headline answers the question “What are you talking about”. Let’s say you’re giving your boss an update as an example, lead with an 8-10 word headline before diving into the details. Most people skip it and force the listener to search for the point. A good headline gives the context needed to find your point quickly.
3. Replay the conversation – There’s a big difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak. A great way to make sure you’re listening actively is to say “So let me make sure I’m hearing you…” and then repeat what they just said.
Learn to be heard
If what we desire most is to be heard, then brevity is the key. It doesn’t mean learning to only speak in short, perfect sound bites. It means committing to change and developing as a concise speaker and an active listener. By building the awareness of those around us, we learn to communicate so they will hear us. For some, it comes natural and for others (myself included), it takes practice. The good news is there are very practical steps you can take to develop the discipline of brevity.
If you’re ready to take your next step towards mastering concise communication, check this out. The BRIEF Boot camp certification is an online course to teach you how to get to the point quickly. It gives you the essential skills and tools to stand out from the rest and be heard. Click here to learn more. Enrollment is open till Wednesday September 7th. Thanks for your attention!
PHOTO CREDIT: DANCING BABY EVIAN COMMERCIAL
About the author: Matt Cornelison is on a mission to help people master concise communication at The BRIEF Lab. He specializes in storytelling and coaching executive communication. He works with top Fortune 500 companies from Harley Davidson to elite Special Operations Units within the Military. Follow Matt on Linkedin.