Communications: It’s Not Just the Words We Use

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In his book, The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking, Dale Carnegie talks about how we are all judged as communicators. He mentions four areas: what we say, how we say it, how we look, and how we treat others (what we do). The point he makes again and again is that the actual words are often but a minor part of the flow of ideas. Let’s look at each area:

What We Say
Have you ever said something and instantly regretted it? Sometimes, in a moment where emotion might have greater control than logic, words have come out of our mouths that are really not us. Yet, because you vocalized an idea or sent that e-mail, you will be forever judged by those words. You may remember when the first George Bush told America: "Read my lips — no new taxes." You might also remember how those words wore on his administration when he had to take them back. The potential for harm is amplified dramatically when these types of words are put into writing or even worse, into e-mail. Who knows where that message might end up? I will never forget a message that a former colleague had inscribed in his office. This message might be a good one for all of us to recall at those moments when our words might do more harm than good:

Be careful of the words you speak,
Keep them soft and sweet.
You’ll never know from day to day,
Which words you’ll have to eat.

How We Say It
In one of our recent training programs I heard the story of a manager of a very technical area in a company who was in a challenging discussion with the sales manager in the same organization. The technical manager was very aware of his words and chose them very carefully. However, the way he emphasized words and added subtle innuendo did not fool the seasoned sales manager. In fact, he had hardly started to make his point when the sales manager said: "Who are you trying to fool here?" He was stopped dead in his tracks.

If you want to see how this concept works, look at the following phrase: I never said he stole money. Now, say the phrase out loud six different times. Each time you repeat it put the vocal emphasis on a different word. You will note that this short sentence actually takes on six different meanings, depending on emphasis. The point is that our listeners easily pick up even our subtle changes in volume and tone.

How We Look
At a recent seminar I attended, the speaker mentioned that if a person walked into the room we were in, and we all looked at that person, each of us would have 70% of our mind made up as to the kind of individual we saw. Wow! Talk about pre-judging others!

There is no doubt that we are all judged by how we look. Books like Dress for Success were written as guidelines to help us do a better job. However, at least as critical, is how we look from the neck up. The late Dr. Leo Buscaglia, a noted authority on the subject of love, often noted the disconnect between people who said they were "fine," and the opposite expression on their face. His advice in this instance was for the person to tell their face how fine they really were. We all might want to be a little more aware of how we look from the neck up.

How We Treat Others (What We Do)
Gary Player is a professional golfer from South Africa. On one occasion he said: "Some people think they can make their candle in life burn more brightly by blowing out other people’s candles." It is unfortunate and true that this approach is used all too commonly.

I was coaching a manager in one of our client companies who used this philosophy in dealing with his team. He truly thought he was one of the nicest, light-hearted managers this company had in their region. However, when you talked with his people, the story was different. They agreed he tried to create a friendly atmosphere. At the same time he had a habit of kidding and giving jabs that were "only meant in humor." His humor was always excused with: "I was only kidding." If you have been on the receiving end of these words, that excuse just does not cut it!

In summary, others judge us in the way we communicate and we judge others too. We need to be aware of the ideas above and make them work for us.

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