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Say it like you mean it
30 January 2016
It’s estimated we have only 9 seconds to make an impression. In an environment with increasing competition for our attention, having impact when we speak, depends on giving enough context and getting to the point.
The preference for most business communication is be brief.
Given the number of daily emails and meetings we attend, this is not surprising.
There is value to be gained from dialogue designed to explore rather than express: Without a balance of both communication styles, we lose powerful insights and valuable distinctions. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m choosing to focus on speaking to cut through in a distracted environment. More than saving time and communicating with clarity, the benefit of this skill is being able to communicate with certainty and convey leadership. This is about purposeful communication and speaking with conviction.
Women use softeners when speaking more than men do so as not to offend or confront the recipients of our message. Softeners and minimisers are linguistic words added to make our message less direct and us seem more considerate.
Here’s an example of a sentence with (exaggerated) softeners: “I’m thinking that if perhaps we have a go at trying a new reporting system, maybe we might be able to improve our direct reporting compliance a bit more. Might be worth trying, what do you think?” Contrast this with: “To improve our reporting compliance, I suggest we look at implementing a new reporting system.”
Both examples convey the same message of suggesting a new reporting system. The first, in a round-about way focuses on a soft suggestion finished with the addition of questioning tonality to seek buy-in and validation from others. The second is a direct statement which frames the suggestion by providing context up front, followed by our suggestion given as a strong statement.
Now let’s take it a step too far: “Reporting compliance is poor, we need a new reporting system.” This sentence is direct and clear in it’s message, yet seems more abrupt. It opens with a judgemental statement (note the shift if we substitute the word poor with low), followed by a statement of what needs to happen rather than a suggestion of what needs to happen.
These language subtleties multiplied by different modalities: speaking to groups, individual phone calls, during meetings and in written communications magnify how we are conveyed and contribute to how confident we seem in our communication.
Imagine future meetings and conversations where there’s a clear platform for collaborative exchange with more purposeful language being used. Saying it like you mean it, is about having awareness of when cut through in words is desirable and intentionally using less softeners.
Different conversations call for different styles of discussion. There are times to explore, times to analyse and times to decide. Saying it like you mean it, is an attitude, an inner confidence and a skill. I invite women to take stock of how they use their words, and where appropriate say it like you mean it.
Kerryn is Vice President of Professional Speakers Australia (VIC, SA, TAS), Founding Director of CORE Potential, creator of Results Roundtable, members of the Australian Institute of Training & Development and International Coach Guild.