By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Some say that we spend as much as 80% of our waking day conversing. That’s an awful lot of talking. But unfortunately, talking is not the same as communicating. If what you’re saying isn’t clear to the intended recipient, or if you lose his or her attention mid-stream, then your efforts to make a point will likely be in vain. This means that important personal and workplace conversations could be going astray. So how can you pack more of a punch in your daily communication and be sure to get your message across? Here are six ways:
1. Be clear about what you want to say. That sounds pretty basic, right? But what happens when you’re feeling emotional or want something but haven’t taken the time to sort out your thoughts. You may not be sure what your main point or objective is before you start talking. If the person you’re speaking with asked, “What exactly do you want” or “What do you need me to do” or “What would correct this problem?” would you be able to answer? It’s helpful to write down some main issues, or “talking points,” beforehand. You can even take these with you into a meeting and refer to them to be sure you cover the key issues.
2. Be concise. Once you’ve decided what it is you want to communicate, think of the least number of words you can use to say it. Some people think that the more they talk, the more they’ll get their point across. Actually the opposite is true. If you talk too much and too long in an effort to support or explain your point, your message will likely get lost in your words. Many people, especially managers, are “main course” people when it comes to conversation. That means they want the “meat and potatoes” served immediately without the appetizer, the salad, and the dessert. Eliminate the extras and get to the point.
3. Say what you have to say and stop talking. Once you’ve said something important, asked for something, or made your case, stop talking and let the silence sit. Many of us are uncomfortable with silence and feel the need to nervously twitter away to fill in the void. Silence actually plays a key role in effective communication. It gives the listener a chance to digest what you just said, compose his or her thoughts, and formulate a response. This is especially important in complex, challenging situations.
4. Eliminate qualifiers. Some people want to set-up the scene before they make their point. They say things like, “I know you’re not going to like what I have to say, but I’m going to say it anyway.” That phrase only serves to put the listener on the defensive before you’ve even made your point. Others might say, “You’ve probably already heard this, but…” In that case, the listener is probably thinking, “Then why are you wasting my time?” Here’s another popular qualifier, “This is only my opinion, but…” There’s no need to say that because it’s understood. Get to the point and let the listener form his or her own opinion and reaction without any prompting from you. In other words, skip the preamble.
5. Start with the end. When you have a point to make or something important to say, state it up front and then back it up if necessary. For example, if you want to apply for a management opening, you might start the conversation with your superior like this: “I’m applying for the assistant nurse manager position. Let me tell you why I’m qualified.” And then you can elaborate. This way, the listener knows what your objective is and will then likely be attentive to the remainder of your presentation. If you were to start building a case for your promotion before you’ve stated your intent, your boss may be distracted wondering where this conversation is headed. Rather than listening to your qualifications, he or she may be thinking about what action they may have to take depending on what your point or objective may be. Your boss might be thinking, “Is she quitting? Is he unhappy with his job? Is she going to ask for a raise?” State your major point or objective and then build your case or elaborate as necessary.
6. Be aware of your body language. When it’s important to appear confident and in control, be aware of how you carry yourself. Sit or stand tall with your shoulders back and your head upright (not tilted). If sitting, lean slightly forward. Keep your chin up and make good eye contact with the person you’re speaking with. Try to keep your facial expressions somewhat neutral. Since facial expressions are easily misread, this can minimize miscommunication of nonverbals. It can also help to keep the conversation more objective and less emotional. This can help you to be perceived as more serious and level headed and less reactionary.
Good communication takes practice. By using these simple strategies you can immediately increase the impact of what you say and add power to your everyday communication.
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