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.”
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)
Gen X (Born between 1965 and 1980)
Millennials (Born between 1981 and 1996)
Gen Z (Born between 1997 and 2012)
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.
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.
Whenever you're ready, there are 3 ways I can help you: