Communication Skills 101: How to get what you ask for?

Read time: 4 minutes

In today’s issue, I’m going to show you ways to help you get what you ask for when you communicate with colleagues.

Your ability to persuade your colleagues to take action on your behalf is a critical skill that can easily be improved.

It’s natural to feel disappointment in a communication breakdown, but it’s important to take a moment to consider whether you were truly clear in your request.

Often you might think you communicated clearly, but in reality, something within your control led to misinterpretation.

It’s 100% the communicator’s responsibility. The recipient is never to blame for “not understanding”.

If you assume “the responsibility lies with me”, you’re starting from a better place.

This wasn’t always the case for me, but now I take full communication responsibility for my requests.

It’s not on the listener to tune into me, and my thought processes when I need them to.

Luckily, you can do a lot to improve your communication skills.

Here are 6 strategies that work for me:

1) Explain using simple words that anyone can understand

Winston Churchill, one of the world’s best-ever communicators once said, “Use simple words everyone knows, then everyone will understand.”

Winston Churchill Simple Words Quote

If you read Churchill’s speeches made 80 years ago during the Second World War, speeches that inspired a nation, you will notice how simple the language is.

He got his message across to as many as possible by using words most people would understand.

People who use complicated language often do so because they think it makes them sound smarter.

The reverse is true.

Leaders who obfuscate with complex words (irony intended) are less effective because they sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about.

2) Summarize often and have them repeat in their own words

I like to repeat requests at least 3 times.

I will start with a quick summary introduction of my request. My aim with the intro is to get the recipient’s brain in gear and working in my direction.

I’ll then go over my ask in more detail. Step-by-step if necessary, looking for nods of agreement and understanding along the way.

I’ll then wrap up the ask with a summary similar to the introduction but in a different order.

I’ll then finish with something like: “Does that make sense? Please ask questions if it doesn’t.”

Then I’ll look for visual or audible cues of confusion or disagreement.

If I see or hear something that suggests doubt we talk it through until I’m comfortable that there is agreement and understanding.

3) Embrace questions

You need a culture where questions are welcomed to ensure clarity.

People must feel comfortable letting you know if you haven’t explained yourself well enough.

Both parties want the job doing well!

So many leaders think people should know what they mean with a few terse instructions.

Great leaders welcome questions and are happy to spend the extra time at the start because they know it saves time later if things are done right the first time.

4) Avoid sending short sharp instructions

This is especially true of written communications like emails.

No one likes to receive an email saying “Do this ↓” at the top.

It’s rude and shows disrespect to the recipient.

Instead, spend a little more time adding content above and below the meat of the email.

An ex-colleague of mine used to refer to this as “social lubrication”.

It’s much nicer to receive an email with, “Hi, I hope all is well with you” at the start and “Does that make sense? Call me if you have any questions” at the end.

If you want to speed up writing stock phrases like these, use software like TextExpander, which helps you quickly spit out text snippets.

I couldn’t live without it. It saves me time while keeping my messages “socially lubricated”.

5) Mind the generation gap

Different generations approach communication with their own expectations, experience and values.

Even the most innocuous of sentences can be misinterpreted depending on the recipient.

Be especially careful with jokes. The same joke told by a Baby Boomer might have a Gen X in fits of giggles while it sends a Gen Z into shock.

Here are some general pointers on how each generation approaches life:

Baby Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964)

  • Used to stable and centralized hierarchies.
  • Value recognition for their knowledge and skills.
  • High expectations of loyalty, respect and obedience.
  • Less tech-savvy.
  • Prefer face-to-face communication, with phones as a backup and email as a last resort.

Gen X (Born between 1965 and 1980)

  • More tech-savvy than Baby Boomers and can handle multiple communication channels.
  • Enjoy being given greater autonomy to complete tasks.
  • Don’t like micromanagement or being contacted out of hours.
  • Prefer email communication with phones and in-person meetings as backups.

Millennials (Born between 1981 and 1996)

  • Embrace technology.
  • Shouldn’t be judged by the number of hours they work but rather by the quality.
  • Expect flexibility in the workplace and are focused on their mental health.
  • Loyalty to a company is not a given but contingent on the company’s continued support.
  • Prefers instant messaging, chatting and emailing. In-person meetings must be inclusive, or they feel their time is wasted. Respond especially well to collaborative workshops.

Gen Z (Born between 1997 and 2012)

  • Never known a world without technology so expect tech to be as frictionless as the stuff they use in their home lives.
  • Love video and voice communication and prefer to do most of their work with their phones.
  • Expect communication between generations to be instant and tech-enabled.
  • Like Millennials, they only know an unstable and uncertain world so they will likely see frequent career shifts as the norm.

6) Try the SBAR method

SBAR stands for Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation.

The military first developed SBAR at the start of the century for nuclear submarines where clear communication is pretty important.

Since then, the healthcare industry has adopted it to alleviate communication problems between healthcare professionals.

Today, it’s one of the most popular handover mnemonic systems in use.

It means a message like this:

Our numbers are low.
Bob Manager

Changes to something like this:

I’ve just come out of a management meeting where we looked at our numbers this month. We’re 7% down on last month and below target. We discussed why this might be and what we could do about it, and I suggested I get together with you and Sarah to come up with some ideas. Sound good?
Thanks, Bob Manager

Key takeaway: don’t just present the problem but offer some background and a solution. It makes it a lot easier for people to respond.

Using these strategies, I never worry about people not understanding what I want.

That doesn’t mean I always get my way! Far from it.

It just means I’m confident I’ve done all I can to bridge any communication gaps and pitfalls that are in my way.

Well, that’s it for today.

I hope you enjoyed it.

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About the Author

Nick Martin helps leaders & consultants improve team results with resources, advice & coaching through