The number of words in the English language is 1,057,379.6. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor as of January 2020. While 1 million words is a generally accepted count by several independent entities, I’m left to wonder which word exactly accounts for the 0.6. But I digress.
In a world that contains this many word choices, coupled with nuances in delivery method and tone, perhaps it is no wonder that effective communication can be tricky. But to triumph over the tricky simply requires a few techniques.
Wordsmithing: To wordsmith something means, “to make changes [written or verbal] to improve clarity and style, as opposed to changing content.” This is about committing to what often might be tough content with the understanding that there are multiple ways to say what needs to be said. Let language work to your advantage, all 1 million-plus word choices.
Framing: Framing a message is intentional positioning of what is said. It is deliberately orchestrating a message so you are speaking in a voice the recipient can hear. And by that I don’t mean verbally hear, but intellectually hear (understand) what is being shared. Being more strategic in your delivery also sounds more professional.
Respond Versus React: While emotions can surface in dialogue with another, you ultimately have a choice. Reacting is letting those emotions get the best of you, while responding is capitalizing on a small window of mental processing before re-engaging in the conversation. It’s the difference between eloquence and ranting. A more controlled response will serve you far better.
Assume Goodwill: We oftentimes misinterpret someone’s communication style, believing that somehow their undesirable delivery is directed at us. It is easy to forget that one’s communication style is merely a function of their personality and not at all intended to be an assault on us. If we extend grace by assuming goodwill and acknowledging the diversity of personalities surrounding us, we can examine the conversation on a more neutral level. Now we can process the merits of the content and not want to strangle the messenger.
Go-To Phrases: Regardless of how well you respond versus react or extend grace to others, you will eventually be caught off guard. Having a few stock statements ready to go will serve you well at those times. I suggest something along the lines of “Ask me that again in a different way,” or “Say that to me differently.” This serves a couple of purposes: It buys you time to mentally process in case you misinterpreted some portion of the conversation, and it subtly suggests to the other person that perhaps what they said did not sit well with you. It’s a complimentary do-over for everyone.
Ask Before Tell: Cognitive processing studies indicate we listen at roughly 200 words per minute and think at nearly 2,000 words per minute. The mental chatter can clearly distract us. We are listening, but we’re also missing relevant pieces of the conversation. So before launching into your storyline, you might stop to ask a few questions to clarify meaning, ensure connectivity and calibrate your thoughts.
Voice: Voice is the packaged content (think nuances) of how we say what we say. The best dialogue is clearly articulated with appropriate volume in a refined pitch (high/low sound waves) using alternating rhythm and tempo (pattern and pace) and controlled timbre (use of emotion to enhance meaning). Finally, breathe deeply to remain relaxed.
Silence: There’s a reason silence is golden. Not every discussion requires input. Not every thought should be shared out loud. And truth be told, silence really does speak louder than words.
It’s unlikely that our need to communicate with others will diminish any time soon. As the world becomes more connected and more social, our ability to navigate language and hone delivery techniques will only work to our advantage.
Ancora Imparo … (Still I am learning)
Stacey Mason is the founder of The Improv Lab, a professional development business in Bentonville. More information is available by calling 479-877-0131. The opinions expressed are those of the author.