Humans speak their first fully-formed words sometime between the age of 9 and 12 months. It’s a big deal, delighting our parents and launching us into the world of interactive communication. For the rest of our lives, words are the foundation of (almost) everything we do.
As a professional, business communication skills are essential to the success of any organization. It is what streamlines internal interactions between employees across departments, helps establish the workplace culture, and ensures relationships are built with clients, business partners, and potential new employees.
The best communicators are those who are continually working to enhance how they deliver their message and what is included in each message. To help you identify areas where you can improve your communications in the workplace, let's take a look at some of the most common problems we, as humans, face when trying to communicate with others and then some tools and steps you can implement to improve your communications.
Psychologist and author, Dr. Jordan Peterson says, “If you can think, speak and write, you are absolutely deadly. Nothing can get in your way.” If Dr. Peterson is right, then why are we so often inattentive to, and careless with, how we use our words?
There are lots of possible answers, but a step back reveals a couple of big themes –– thoughtlessness and impulsivity, as well as talking too much. Let’s take a closer look at how these behaviors can affect business communication.
Sounds harsh, right? Thoughtless and impulsive aren’t character traits that most of us aspire to, right? Yet when we think deeply, the terms are accurate. The key is to remove our cognitive bias, understanding that when we are thoughtless or impulsive, it doesn’t mean we are mean-spirited or stupid. It means we weren’t being mindful. We reacted. There was no gap between stimulus and response.
Keep in mind that hearing is not listening; active listening requires temporarily setting your world aside and concentrating on the other person’s message and meaning. Evaluations, decisions, and reactions can come later.
Talking too much is all about math. It’s the law of probabilities at work – the more words we speak or write, the higher the likelihood we will say or write something we regret. We also greatly increase the chances the audience loses interest and tunes us out. Do not underestimate the importance that words have when either strengthening bonds or fracturing them. Regardless of whether the words are spoken or written in a casual interaction, in a frustrating or disappointing situation, or during a critical review, be acutely aware of the power of your vocabulary. Our words matter, and we can always be more attentive and careful with them.
To be, as Jordan Peterson says, absolutely deadly, with nothing getting in our way, it’s important to recognize that “using our words” is something we must work to improve. The most successful people treat this as a craft they are honing continuously. Here are some suggestions to ensure that your words matter:
This is, without question, one of the most valuable things you can do. Before speaking or writing – whenever possible – prepare mentally in advance. What do you plan to say? How do you plan to say it? Speak it out loud so you hear how it sounds. You’ll be amazed at how often it improves both the actual words you choose and the volume of words you use. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Great communicators are masters of efficiency. They don’t waste words. Consider the word “just”, for example. Consider eliminating this word. Why? Because it diminishes whatever follows it. “I just called to say I love you.” (Thanks Stevie Wonder). “I just wanted to get an update on the project status.” Prefacing with “just” diminishes the importance of communicating love or getting that project update. Other words that fall into this category are “really,” “quite,” and “literally.”
Here’s another opportunity to remove cognitive bias from the equation. “Being direct” gets a bad rap. One can be direct in a manner that isn’t unpleasant. Being direct conveys confidence. It positions you as authentic and transparent. It saves time and reduces the risk of being misinterpreted. Consider the above two examples stated differently: “I called to say I love you” and “I want to get an update on the project status.” Those are much stronger statements that are received much differently in the absence of ‘just’ one word.
A master of brevity and wit, Churchill said, “Short words are best and old words when short are the best of all.” Simple words are sharp, clear, and to the point. Our brains, eyes, and mouths don’t struggle with them. Simple words get your message across fast. In today’s attention-deficit world where so many don’t want to read or listen, simple words are a competitive advantage.
Talking too much is often caused by social anxiety. Thinking and communicating around a small number of bullet points can be extremely helpful. Concise bullets are mental anchors that provide comfort and keep us from drifting too far off track with our words.
This is easy to say and hard(er) to do. Count for two seconds, at a minimum, before replying to something that’s said to you. There are several benefits to this practice, one of which is to allow yourself a moment to formulate a response – enough time (hopefully) to avoid one that is thoughtless or impulsive. When you choose to wait on a response, you reduce/remove the emotions helping to ensure a dialogue rather than a disagreement occurs. Also, instead of allowing a trigger, choose instead to believe in the good intentions of the other person.
We spend a huge percentage of our waking hours with words. A University of California, San Diego study estimated the average American consumes over 100,000 words every day. The ambient noise level in our lives has never been higher. How do we break through so that we can be heard? By making sure our words matter.
As experts in the field of executive search, we have seen how business communication skills can make or break some of the most valuable hiring opportunities for organizations. These connections are your time to create authentic interactions and build trusting relationships.
At Kinsley Sarn, we facilitate conversations with some of the most qualified candidates to help you win the war for talent. Through carefully crafted candidate profiles and experiential interviews, we can identify candidates that meet your needs as well as make them an ideal fit for your long-term goals. But, we don’t stop there –– once hired, we offer transition services that make the change easier, significantly increasing your chances of employee retention.
If you are interested in partnering with our team to find the next leaders for your organization, contact us directly by clicking the button below. We look forward to helping you with all of your hiring needs.
This content was originally written by Karen Schmidt for the Sanford Rose Associates Executive Search Network in July 2022 and reworked by Kinsley Sarn in September 2022.