Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could work hard to craft the perfect message, deliver it, and it would be received exactly as intended?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand I can wave to make that happen. Communication is complex, and the complexity increases when multiple people are involved.
However, I can provide you with three simple, but important rules. These rules, when followed, help you to communicate in a way that will position you as a more confident communicator that values relationships and professionalism.
Rule 1: Eliminate “you” as a conversation starter.
One of the worst possible words you can start any conversation with is the word “you”. Using the word “you” at the beginning of a conversation is the equivalent of pointing a verbal finger at someone. When this happens, our brains subconsciously kick into defense mode, and our bodies physiologically brace for what’s to come next.
Let’s put this in a situational context.
You’re delivering recommendations based on the investigation you conducted. In giving this presentation, you decide to start the reporting with:
“You guys need to change your processes.”
This points the verbal finger at them, positions the conversation in an us-versus-them dichotomy, and unfavorably biases how people will listen to the rest of your presentation.
Instead, set the stage for the requested change.
“Based on the research we conducted, we believe you need to change your processes.”
There are a couple key differences in this simple change. First, there’s context for the change being presented. This will tie into another rule in a minute. And second, there’s ownership of the message. “We believe” (if it’s a team report) or “I believe” (if you’re solo) are ways to own your message and the recommendations you’re making.
These are simple, subtle changes, but they make a difference in how your messages are received and how future messages will be greeted.
Rule 2: Stop apologizing.
There’s an epidemic spreading and it’s called the filler apology. We tend to use apologies like filler words in conversation, when we don’t know what else to say. We apologize for things that don’t necessitate an apology. And we’ve equivocated apologizing with being polite.
I’m not saying to not apologize if you did something legitimately wrong, but I am saying to watch how many times in a day the word “sorry” comes out of your mouth or through your written communication.
If it wasn’t in your control, there’s no need for an apology.
Saying “sorry” unnecessarily strips confidences from your communication. Or, as my friend Helen Appleby calls it in her forthcoming book, The Unwritten Rules of Women’s Leadership, it leaks the power from your message.
Another word that leaks language?
“I just wanted to tell you…”
No. “I want to tell you.”
There’s no need for the “just” in that statement. It becomes another word that fills space and provides no value. The only time where “just” is functional is when it can stand for a measure of time.
I challenge you to read through your past dozen emails. Did you use confidence-stripping language? Now that you’re more conscious of the weakening power “just” and “sorry” have in your language, you can make steps to reduce their usage.
Rule 3: Be specific and behavioral.
We know the importance of owning our communication and not pointing the verbal finger at anyone by starting a conversation with the word “you”. We now understand the power that using words such as “just” and “sorry” strips from your language. Now, combine those two with this third rule to make sure that your communication is on target.
Make sure each line of your message—verbal or written—has an intention.
And that intention needs to be communicated with specifics.
For example, here is one of the most overused and, quite frankly useless, phrases used as an opening line in an email:
“I hope you’re doing well.”
I’m not saying that politeness doesn’t have a place. And I’m not saying that every email needs to get straight-to-the-point (though some people may prefer that, as I know I do). I am saying that the phrase, “I hope you’re doing well” serves no purpose.
It doesn’t provide anything specific.
It doesn’t establish rapport or further a relationship.
Every time you notice yourself typing that, ask, “Is there something specific about this person, our collaboration, or the project, that I could add to that line to make the message more personal and purposeful?”
For example, “I hope that the data-gathering process for the next round of our reporting is going smoothly. I’m looking forward to see what you and your team came up with.”
The same thing goes for any corrective feedback messaging that needs to be delivered, or any action requests. Don’t assume that the other person knows what you’re talking about. Be specific in what you require and what behaviors (actions) are necessary.
Combining these three simple, but purposeful rules will have you communicating in a way that’s more positive, professional, and confident. Allowing you the time and space to do what you do best and let your hard work be showcased in the way it deserves.