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How to Speak So Others Hear You

     I was coaching a director once who had one of her supervisors quit abruptly.  She complained that the supervisor hardly did what she'd asked her to anyway so "good riddance".  She met with me to try to brainstorm some ideas around how to engage employees better.  As she spoke for about five to eight minutes uninterrupted, I noticed something that might lend itself to the reason why the supervisor rarely did what was asked of her and quite possibly why she left.  The director's comments went like this:  "I've been thinking about some things that I think will help my team...I'm not quite sure if they'll buy it, but...well before I tell you that, I was thinking...I just want to have you as a sounding board.  Sometimes it's so difficult to get it all out...let me know if you agree with this...I haven't tried it yet, but...be frank in your feedback because I want to make sure...you know what I'm saying?"  In short, the answer was "no".  I did not know what she was saying because she hadn't said anything yet.  In fact, I'd stopped listening minutes ago.  I can't help but wonder if that's why the supervisor didn't do what she was asked.  Maybe she had no clue what the director was asking!  Clear communications is an important part of being heard.
     When you don't feel heard, what could you be doing that prevents the listener from wanting to sit up and take notice?  There are a whole host of barriers we self-impose, but I'm going to deal with three.  Read with your own communications habits in mind.
     First, when you need to command attention, make sure you're saying something important.  Far too often, we waste other people's time with idle chatter.  Taking time out to shoot the breeze is fine when time is on your side.  But with most people's time a limited resource these days, nobody wants to squander the little they have by listening to another person who is talking a lot but saying nothing.  Even if someone has the luxury of time on their hands, they could find plenty of other things to do than listen to your meaningless and meandering musings.  Speak of things that are important to them.  Give them useful information that will somehow peak their interest and give them pause.  Make them think.  Make their minds transfer your information to something applicable in their lives.
     Second, articulate what you need to say clearly and without clutter.  For example, imagine you are cleaning out a room in your house that had managed to become a stockpile of worthless items amid some valuable, useful objects you wanted to keep.  As you are finding the valuable items and hauling out the worthless ones, a friend who is helping you keeps hauling back in the stuff you've thrown out.  Such is the case with language.  We clutter up our messages with worthless words, thoughts, ideas, and intentions that only serve to weaken our conversations.  Toss out the trash, and keep only those things that will make people stop and pay attention to what you have to say.
     Finally, make sure your conversation evokes an action or reaction.  If you're making a request, ask for what you want to have done clearly.  Don't hem and haw around the question, be direct.  If you're interjecting humor, then make sure it's funny enough to elicit a chuckle or smile at least.  Misplaced humor or an unfunny comment will make people want to end the conversation immediately.  If you seek to inspire and encourage, then make your words and phrases those that will evoke those emotions.  When it's important and you need to be heard, you must make sure that on that particular time, your words matter.
     When you do this consistently, people will be ready to hear from you almost every time.  They will know that when you speak, you usually have something worthwhile to say even if it's casual.  They will give you their full attention, and you will be heard.

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