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People Skills for Skilled People! We hope this year has gotten off to a great and prosperous start for you.
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Before You Speak!
(or, in other words, speak
only if you can improve upon the
Vol.2, No. 1
If you attend any CEI training
events on public speaking, you’re bound to hear us quote the famous Roman
orator Quintillian’s proclamation that the definition of a good communicator
is a good person speaking well. We also have a plaque displayed prominently in
our office lobby that says “Because Nice Matters.” You can’t study
communication for very long before you see the strong ethical and human
dimensions of this subject. As we recognize the 60th anniversary of the
liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, we’re reminded that history is
littered with speakers and politicians who possessed powerful communicative
ability but who lacked or perverted morality with disastrous consequences. While
most of us day-by-day don’t experience communication moments involving deep
moral choices, we do strongly impact those around us with the small choices we
make in our spoken and body language.
As with a number of PSSP issues, this one has grown out of lively discussions at
CEI on how some people succeed in communication while others spend a lot of time
“shooting themselves in the foot” and alienating those around them.
A concept that has emerged from our discussions that we’d like to share is a
kind of “dipstick.” We asked, “What if there were a simple formula to
evaluate the impact ahead of time of something you were about to say to someone,
especially in a tense or sensitive situation?” Well, we actually came up with
five “dipsticks,” which you can easily remember by the acronym THINK.
T = Is it the truth?
This is a tough question because on many levels we’re all only seeing our
perspective on a situation, like the shopworn parable of the blind men feeling
different parts of an elephant. In fact, we just discovered a quotation recently
that supports this. It goes, “We don’t see things as they are, we see
things as we are.” Yet we also recognize generally agreed-upon moral
and ethical truths at work in most human situations. This “dipstick” simply
challenges us to check for the truth in what we’ll say to the best of our
In their desire to be truthful, some people will resort to what they call
“direct” communication with others. We have learned over the years that this
“direct” style is often code for bluntness and tactlessness. You may have
truth on your side, but it won’t do the other person any good if it’s
rejected because of how it was delivered (see K = Kind below).
H = Is it helpful?
Most people, in our experience, want to be helpful. And in that spirit, they are
liberal with advice. The trouble is, a great deal of well-meaning advice emerges
out of what people think the truth is but don’t in fact really know. They can
forget that theirs is only part of the picture. We see this phenomenon played
out tragically in many people who come to us for speech coaching. Many say they
look unpoised, inarticulate, and awkward (which they usually don’t),
adjectives that have grown out of relatives’ or friends’ well-meaning
attempts to improve them with “good advice.” Good intentions alone, however,
won’t go far if they’re not grounded in accurate perceptions, and, as
we’ve witnessed, can do a lot of damage.
I = Is it insightful?
It’s often been said that people don’t really change for the better until
they discover their own need for change in themselves. Many of our private
clients come to amazing realizations about how they come across to others in
communication, particularly through their nonverbal communication. I remember
after a particularly successful communication encounter, a client calling Jan
and in glee shouting, “Man, this stuff you teach really WORKS!” When
something works that well, you have the kind of insight about it that keeps you
N = Is it necessary?
This is tricky for a lot of American managers. We tend to be a conflict-averse
culture, a fact that has led to disastrous incidents of workplace violence, many
of which were identifiable long before the eruption. There are many occasions
when criticism or difficult-to-take advice needs to be given (ask any parent of
a teenager!). Yet there are ways to present difficult matters without arousing
resentment or defensiveness. If more people knew the power of “affirming and
validating” others’ perceptions, who can tell how much good could result?
K = Is it kind?
This is where communication specialists are often criticized by the curmudgeons
of the world, who call our specialty “smile technology.” Yet the research
shows that people respond better to and are attracted to overtly happy, kind,
and optimistic people. If you have to give “bad news” to someone but you do
it in a way that shows them you truly care about them, you’ll have a lot more
success in persuading them to take your advice seriously. Remember the
insightful quote, “People won’t care how much you know, until they know how
much you care.” Also recall the lead quotation in our first issue of PSSP,
“People might forget what you said. They may even forget what you did. But
they will never forget how you made them feel.” If you’re kind in your
communication, they’ll remember it.
Next time you’re in a tense situation, maybe with bad news to deliver, put in
these dipsticks ahead of time and THINK!
Yours in great communication,
Jan and Neal Palmer
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