We all know that Warren Buffett is a quote machine for his astonishing, yet simple, wisdom. Naturally, much of it has to do with investment, but at age 88, Buffett has dished out plenty of profound advice on living a successful life.

One quote that caught my attention comes via The Investor's Field Guide blog. The writer shares a story about Buffett telling a Stanford graduate one of the most important, and often overlooked, keys to success. Buffett said:

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.

Buffett continues:

Without good communication skills you won't be able to convince people to follow you, even though you see over the mountain and they don't.

"Learn to communicate better."

While Buffett's advice is a no-brainer, we often underestimate the importance of communication in building credibility and influencing others--customers, employees, peers, bosses, and other stakeholders.

Research conducted by the Carnegie Institute of Technology revealed that a surprising 15 percent of financial success comes from knowledge or technical skills. The other 85 percent? Your ability to effectively communicate, negotiate, and lead in the manner of both speaking and listening. 

When Buffett talks about learning to be a better communicator, he's not just alluding to fancy words coming out your mouth. There are plenty of things we should and should not do to communicate at a high level.

Let's take a look at four of them now.

1. Get all the facts before you assume things.

Henry Winkler once said, "Assumptions are the termites of relationships." So often, we falsely assume things about people and circumstances stemming from the stereotypes and wrong impressions we've learned, which can cloud our judgment when we communicate. 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?

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.

2. Give regular feedback.

While giving feedback to let people know where they stand should be a normal process of effective communication, not everyone has the capacity to do it. This is especially true for people in management roles who are required to use feedback to address challenging issues and keep people abreast of their performance.

Research conducted by the Ken Blanchard Companies shows that "67 percent of people want to have performance feedback conversations often or all the time, but only 29 percent actually do."

Even more alarming, the research states that "36 percent say they rarely or never receive performance feedback."

Leaders who do an exceptional job of providing feedback do so with clear and consistent messages that always focus on concrete actions with a positive end goal in mind. This gives people a vision to work toward.

3. Listen before you speak.

Building up your active listening skills is crucial for solving problems, building trust, and winning the hearts and minds of people. Here's a tip: Put down your smart phone, eliminate your distractions in the moment, and give the speaker your full attention.

What you're communicating nonverbally is "I am interested in what you have to say." And whatever you do, don't interrupt. This is especially true for a person who is upset and needs your undivided attention. Allow for ventilation to occur. Park your thoughts and your need for a rebuttal in the moment. Your time will come to reflect back what you heard or state your point.

4. Pay attention to how fast or how slow you talk.

Dr. Donna Van Natten, the "Body Language Dr." and author of Image Scrimmage, found that the "optimal rate" we process information in a conversation is between 170 and 190 words per minute. Van Natten says if we use fewer than 170 words per minute, we are less dynamic and our listener will zone out. In other words, speed up!

Even more important is being aware of how fast you're speaking, especially if the topic of conversation is about complex work stuff. Van Natten says that if you're conversationally cruising at more than 190 words per minute, "slow down and seek comprehension," otherwise your listener is headed for the deer-in-the-headlights look.

At worst, if you're speaking at the breakneck speed of more than 210 words per minute, expect the listener to abandon the conversation entirely, says Van Natten.

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.

Published on: Nov 19, 2018
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