We make New Year's resolutions about our careers, our eating habits, or our exercise. Let's make 2010 resolutions about our communication!
First, think before you speak. Often we offend someone, make an irrelevant comment, or state an idea that makes no sense simply because we don't think before we speak. We need to put into practice the Chinese proverb, "From listening comes wisdom and from speaking comes repentance." Often listening one additional sentence can be very wise. Brooke Shields would probably like to take back this statement from an anti-smoking campaign interview: "Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life." Or former Washington, D. C., Mayor Marion Barry, who said, "Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”
Second, listen more than you talk. We should resolve to spend less than 50% of our communication time in talking. When you find yourself talking too much, simply turn your comment into a question. Instead of saying, "This is going to be one of our coldest winters, " say, "What do you think about the extremely cold weather we have been having?" Then continue making your point after the person answers the question—unless that person's comment made your point better than you would have. Then you can move on to another topic.
Third, don't substitute technology for important one-on-one conversation. Remember to call on your technical skills when dealing with things and your interpersonal skills when dealing with people. Resigning from an important committee via email, for example, is likely to alienate the other committee members and lead to a more difficult transition period. The personal touch is important when dealing with personal matters. Don't email or text a message if your recipient would respond better to a personal phone call or a discussion over coffee.
Fourth, say your message in a positive way. People understand positive messages easier and more quickly than negative messages. For example, often you need to respond to a customer's request even when the request is out of line. Instead of saying, "I'm not sure we can do that," say, "I'll be happy to check on that for you." Simple changes such as "challenge" instead of "problem" can improve the positive nature of your ideas. (I'm still trying to convince my students that a test is really a golden opportunity.)
Finally, make your point quickly and concisely. You know people who will give a long response to a "yes" or "no" question. Don't speak 30 words when three words will suffice. President Warren G. Harding was said to have had this problem. William Gibbs McAdoo called his speeches, "…an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea."
Let's adjust our approach to speaking in 2010 by putting into practice what T. S. Eliot wrote: "For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice."
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.