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Effective Communication: It’s Not What You Say or How You Say It

Effective communication is about how they feel after you said it.

So you think you’re a good communicator. I do. Until I wasn’t. I jokingly made a remark, but in fact, it was hurtful to the person receiving it. Well, Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Lately, a couple of my clients approached me with this phenomenon as well. Each of them believed they were being misinterpreted by their staff. “But they took it the wrong way!” “I didn’t say that!”

So we went through my clients’ respective conversations to look for where the misinterpretations were happening. Here is the range of what we discovered: People felt hurt. People felt unheard. People felt that the conversation wasn’t genuine. People felt attacked. People felt afraid. It all was about their feelings.

To protect against misinterpretation, we focused on how the other person was feeling. We learned, for instance, how to “bookend” the conversation. We made sure we started up a conversation openly, and closed it by checking out the impact of what we said. It goes like this: 1. Soft start up: “Do you have a minute?” or “My intention here is to…” 2. Be genuinely curious about what is going on for them. 3. Repeat back what you heard. 4. Ask if they are ready or open to hear your viewpoint or feedback. 5. Check out impact. “What did you hear me say?” “How do you feel hearing that?”

The bookends are the soft start-up and the checking out of discussion’s impact on the listener. This is best used when we have those crucial conversations – conversations about job performance or employee engagement, for example.

The beauty of it is if you mess up as I did, you get to genuinely offer to clean it up. Acknowledge how it made them feel. “Wow, when I said that, that must have hurt you.” Apologize. Restate your intention. If it feels egregious enough, enroll them into looking for a solution. “I’d like to clean this up. How can we make it right?”

You get to catch yourself in the act and change course. And after the conversation is over, what comes across most is that you care.

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