Think good communication matters at work? You bet. In fact, the world's most successful billionaire entrepreneurs have already declared its importance.

Warren Buffett recently told a graduate student earning his MBA at Stanford this little gem on the importance of communicating well:

At your age the best way you can improve yourself is to learn to communicate better. Your results in life will be magnified if you can communicate them better. The only diploma I hang in my office is the communications diploma I got from Dale Carnegie in 1952.

But what is really meant when we talk about being a better communicator? Well, sometimes we need to look closely at the things we subconsciously (or unconsciously) do to hinder our ability to communicate at a high level. Here are four that requires your immediate attention.

You assume too much.

Henry Winkler once said, "Assumptions are the termites of relationships." We often (and wrongly) assume things about people stemming from the stereotypes we have learned, which can cloud our judgment.

Before giving your brain free reign to assume something, stop and ask:

  • Do I have all the facts or am I making an unfounded assumption?
  • Do I want to prove that my assumption is right, or do I want to develop a deeper connection with this person by asking versus assuming?

When you don't do the simple task of asking questions to challenge your own assumptions, you let thoughts and belief systems to become strongholds of the mind. In other words, you keep believing the lies that you've been telling yourself.

Don Miguel Ruiz, best selling author of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, has some good perspective on why we make assumptions. He states:

"If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions."

You talk too fast.

Dr. Donna Van Natten, author of Image Scrimmage and know to the world as the Body Language Dr., references research that states the "optimal rate" we process information is between 170 and 190 words per minute. That means, if we use fewer than 170 words per minute, we are less dynamic and our listener will zone out. In other words, speed up!

But that's not nearly as important as using more than 190 words per minute, especially if the topic is about complex work stuff. In that case, she says "slow down and seek comprehension"-- otherwise your listener is headed for the deer-in-the-headlights look. At worse, Van Natten says if you use more than 210 words per minute, expect the listener to abandon the conversation. 

The takeaway here? For most learners and people processing new information, slow things down so they don't lose you; for everyday conversations and written content in which no new information is being introduced, speed things up.

You don't listen enough.

Effective communication isn't just about talking; great conversationalists listen intuitively to the other person's story, asking questions, and searching conversations for depth, meaning and understanding.

This takes the skill of being "present" and "in the moment." Meaning, you cease from having the need to talk over others to get your point across, which works to your advantage. When you listen -- truly listen -- you hear peoples' objections, anxieties, and fears but also the solution to problems.

You fear human interaction and hide behind your digital comfort zone.

The digital era is causing a slow degeneration in our ability to verbally communicate. This affects all generations, not just Millennials. As a Gen-Xer myself, I fully admit that being connected 24/7 to mobile apps, texting, email, and social media has become a crutch. The speed of communicating in 280 characters or less is certainly convenient, but I need to guard against diminishing my own ability to verbally engage colleagues and clients when necessary.

While I'm speaking for me, most of us can probably relate. If this rings true for you, it means courageously stepping out from behind your digital comfort zone to deal directly with the unpredictability of human emotions. This is what generations past used to do, and it's often the quickest route in cutting through conflict or setting clear expectations with intention, if you're a leader.

Published on: Feb 28, 2018
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