Since childhood, we have been told to build our vocabularies, learn to spell, watch our syntax, imagine what our audience is hearing, speak and write with conviction – and that if we do these things, we will be more effective communicators. We try, in earnest, to learn our lessons, to follow the rules, and to focus on our language, yet we repeatedly fail to communicate. Why?
Because much of what we have been taught is wrongly focused.
Savvy communicators, on the other hand, leverage a little-known truth – a paradox of communication – and here it is: “It doesn’t matter what you say; it doesn’t matter how you say it; it doesn’t even matter what they hear; all that matters is how people respond.”
Think about it. Unless we’re speaking just to hear ourselves talk, the object of communication is to elicit a response.
In one office building, a sales professional is struggling to understand why he lost a big order after delivering a flawless presentation. In another, a rising executive is wondering how to tell her boss that her star employee walked out after reading an accurate and carefully worded performance review. Across town, a recent graduate is reduced to tears by a rejection letter he received in response to his well-organized resume and thoughtful cover letter. And his mother, a prominent defense attorney, is about to learn that the jury has found her client guilty on all counts – despite a passionate and articulate closing argument.
Meanwhile, a bumbling salesman will close the biggest deal of his life, an uneducated manager will turn around his problem employee, an unqualified student will land a job, and a class-B lawyer’s guilty client will go free.
Who were the better communicators? Precisely.
So, next time you have to decide whether choose a bigger word, or repair a split infinitive, or “sell it like your life depended on it,” stop. Get your mind off yourself. You don’t matter. Instead, consider your audience, ask how they will respond to what you are about to say, and communicate for the outcome. The rules aren’t important.