By Alan Zimmerman
A while ago, Roger E. Axtell sent an email to the General Manager of his company in Peru. In the message he wrote, “I need to know the number of people in your factory and the number of people in your office broken down by sex.”
The manager dutifully replied: “We have 35 in our factory, 10 in the office and 5 in the hospital — none broken down by sex. If you must know, our problem down here is with alcohol.”
Well, yes, they may have had a problem with alcohol, but the two of them also had a problem with communication. And whether you realize it or not, most of us have several communication problems every day.
In fact, communication incompetence is one of the leading causes of business failure and relationship failure.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can learn to be an amazingly effective communicator. Here are three ways you can start your journey to better communication.
► 1. Remember the privilege of the platform.
Every time you speak, you are using up someone else’s time. And considering the precious nature of time, it’s quite an honor when people tune into you.
The great actor, Charlton Heston, took that privilege seriously.
One of my colleagues learned that firsthand when he was seated next to Heston on a plane a few years ago. As they talked, Heston mentioned he was coming from a conference where he addressed 112 people.
Of course, my colleague thought how disappointing that must have been for Heston … being a world-famous actor … when only a few people came to his presentation. Nonetheless, my colleague knew Hesston was also a world-class communicator, so he asked him what was the secret to his powerful communication ability.
Heston replied, “I have never gotten over the miracle that someone will come to listen to me speak.”
He held the communication process in such high regard that he made sure he never abused the process.
And hopefully the same thing could be said about you when you talk. You do more than blabber on. You remember it is a privilege to speak … a privilege you cannot take for granted … and a privilege you must handle with respect.
I know it’s a privilege that I take very seriously in my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program, doing everything I can to make sure what I say has tremendous value for the listener.
And the feedback indicates that is exactly what happens.
Gary Pendleton, a Chartered Financial Consultant, says, “My wife Laura pushed me to attend Dr. Zimmerman’s Journey program. Thank God she did! It was the BEST motivational training session I ever attended. It was a life-changing event. It changed my business and my family relationships for the better.”
► 2. Make sure you have something worthwhile to say before you say it.
I’m sure you know people who just talk on, and on, and on. I don’t know what’s driving their behavior. Maybe they love the sound of their voice. Or they need to be the center of attention. But I do know they’re driving other people nuts.
Don’t be one of those folks that other people love to avoid.
Before you speak, ask yourself a few questions: “Are you talking too much? … Do others want to hear what you have to say? … and … Are your comments worth saying?”
As the great philosopher Plato said thousands of years ago, “Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.”
That’s great advice for all of us. And it was something that Ralph soon learned.
Ralph had been driving down a rural highway for several hours when he stopped in a small town to buy gas. He spotted several older men seated outside the garage of the gas station.
“Hey, there,” Ralph said, eager for a bit of conversation before he got back on the road. The men glanced at Ralph and nodded.
“Sure is hot today,” Ralph said. The men nodded again.
“On my way to Fairfield. Haven’t driven through these parts in quite some time.” The men looked at Ralph. “You fellas sure are quiet,” Ralph said, “Is there some kind of law against speaking in this town?”
“No laws like that here,” one of the men explained. “But we have an understanding. We don’t speak unless we can improve upon the silence.”
So make sure your comments at work, at home, and everywhere else are worth saying.
► 3. Use more “I” statements and fewer “we” statements.
Ineffective communicators tend to speak for others, which is demeaning. Instead of saying “Ifeel good about that idea,” they may say, “We all agree with that approach.”
They assume they already know what somebody else is thinking or feeling. And that’s dismissive, not respectful.
Sheriff Terry Mullins from Springfield, Colorado wrote about an elderly man in a nearby hospital who was upset with the way one of the nurses communicated. She meant no harm but talked to him like a child. She would say things like, “How are we today? … Are we ready for a bath? … and … Are we hungry?”
So one morning the old man took the apple juice off his tray and hid it in the drawer beside his bed. Shortly afterwards, the nurse came in and gave him a bottle for a urine sample. When the nurse left, the old man poured the apple juice into the bottle. When the nurse came in and picked up the sample, she looked at it and said, “My, my, we’re a bit cloudy today.”
The old man snatched it out of her hand, pulled the top off, and drank it down. He said, with a burp, “I’ll run it through again and see if it’ll clear up.” The nurse fainted.
Use more “I” statements and you’ll find people tune in more attentively to what YOU have to say.
This article was originally posted at drzimmerman.com.
Dr. Alan Zimmerman, PH.D., CSP, CPAE is a faculty member of LEADERSHIP USA.