Social media is changing our language. I still giggle when my dad sends me texts that include “that’s gr8” or “r u ok?” Maybe we’re becoming lazier or maybe we’re just busy getting more done but in a world where “sick” no longer means to be ill and “LOL” can either mean lots of love or laugh out loud depending on what side of 50 you’re on, does language still matter in communication?
In a word, yes.
While language may only be a small part of the message when it comes to what we communicate, it still matters. So here are 5 considerations to help you make the most of the words you use.
Speak their language
We experience the world through our senses — our representational systems — and when we communicate we use them too. Each of us generally has a preferred system and when we talk, we give the listener clues as to which one it is. There are 6 representational systems in all but in communication, we generally focus on four. They would be Visual — what we see, Auditory — what we hear, Kinesthetic — touch and tactile senses and finally Auditory Digital — our inner voice. If you’re interested in learning your preference, you can check out a free test here.
If you preference your visual sense you’re likely to demonstrate it by saying things such as “I see what you mean…” Those that prefer their auditory sense may say things like “I hear what you’re saying.” If you’re more kinesthetic then things probably “don’t feel right.” See what I did there?
What does all of this mean?
If you can identify the preferred representational systems of those around you and then speak in their language, you’re going to build great rapport, help ensure your message is heard as it’s intended and increase your capacity to influence others significantly.
Begin with the end in mind
Why have the conversation? It’s a pretty simple question but it’s one we very rarely take the time to answer.
Dr Stephen Covey’s Habit #2 is one that I use for everything. Anytime I’m writing, any time I’m developing training content, when I start out my year, develop my goals AND when I prepare for a critical conversation.
By asking ourselves what we want to get out of the conversation, we can set some clear goals and tailor the content to ensuring that we’re achieving them.
Seek to understand
Most often conversations are a transaction. You speak, I speak and then you speak again. While you’re busy talking, I’m busy cultivating my reply. It’s listening with the intent to respond and it’s how most conversations go. But what if you waited until you truly understood the other person before being heard yourself? Seeking to understand is my second dose of Dr Covey on this list and it’s another unwritten rule that I use every day.
How do you seek first to understand?
Try asking questions, clarify and reflect what they’ve said and most importantly listen not just for language but also for feelings. You’ll really be able to do this well now that you’ve mastered your own body language.
“Judge a man by his questions, rather than by his answers.” Voltaire
Once you know you really understand, that’s your green light to have your turn to be understood. That’s when you can consider how to…
Say it respectfully
I often think that one of my strengths is my ability to communicate well. Unfortunately, like most people, the place I let myself down the most is when I’m communicating with the people I’m closest to. Why is it that when we have to have a conversation at work, we consider how we say it but when we have it at home we go in full steam ahead like a bull in a china shop?
After asking yourself what needs to be said, the next question should always be “how can I say it respectfully?” If you simply cannot have the conversation in a way that’s respectful then don’t have it at all. Sometimes, if emotions are high, it means that we have to leave our conversation for a day or two and at other times, it means going back to our purpose and asking ourselves if we’re having the conversation for the right reasons.
Stay away from why
Why is the question that trumps all other questions or so we’ve been hearing a lot lately. It’s true, why questions are great, they’re just not great all the time. The one big problem with why questions are that they can sound like an accusation. For example, if I asked you “why did you do that?” it comes across like I’m accusing you of doing something wrong.
If you do need to ask the why questions then consider your language. Instead of asking why, try getting the information you need through “tell me how” or “what lead you to” style questions.
There’s a time and a place for LOL-ing, ROTFL-ing and PMSL-ing and there’s also a place for well spoken, articulate conversation. The key is to know when to use them. Quick texts to your partner shouldn’t take the place of all meaningful conversations and hashtags have no place in formal work emails. Take your digital detox to the next level and get rid of text speak from all non-text or social media communication, try face-to-face over email wherever possible and leave your phones at home on date night!
So there you have it, part 3 in the art of communication. Communicating is a pretty massive skill to master and there is a tonne more that I could add to the series, however, if you focus on getting these three right you will have come a long way to having more meaningful and better received conversations.