Communicating effectively

May 2017

Words matter.  We humans communicate orally and in writing.  The hearing impaired use sign language to communicate, even when they learned how to speak before becoming deaf.  The blind communicate orally; read and write in braille.

The mantra, “Say what you mean.  Mean what you say” has its own sense of importance.  I still hear my beloved mother’s caution, “Put your brain in gear before you put your mouth in motion.”  Being the spontaneous-response type, those cautionary words have been a throttle throughout much of my life.

Communicating is not one-directional.  While the communicator is speaking or writing, his or her audience is listening or reading.  The effective oral communicator must have an audience.  Otherwise, he or she is speaking solely to themselves.  Written communication, logically, takes on a different dynamic.  The writer can share his or her works immediately; or, at some point in the future.  The oral communicator is heard immediately, even if listened to by way of a tape recording or videotape; radio or television.

The critical aspect of communicating effectively is this:  What exactly do you want to say or are you trying to say?  A level clarity is more available in written format than in oral dialog unless the words spoken are carefully crafted.  “Once out of the barn,” as the saying goes.  We humans listen through “filters”, often hearing what we want to hear rather than listening to what is in fact being said.

Several years ago I attended a retreat where various workshops were offered.  One workshop in particular stands out.  Couples were invited up onto the stage in front of us.  The moderator would ask one partner to say something to the other partner.  It was unscripted, so that neither partner could come prepared.  The fascinating aspect of this entire exchange was when the listener was asked to repeat what they had just heard.  They were not to repeat the words of the speaker.  Rather, to say what they as the listener had heard.  Amazing!  At times the hearer responded with feedback that seemed nearly foreign to what had been said by the speaker.

The purpose of the exercise was to seek clarity in and of communication.  Whether this takes place in a personal relationship or within a group setting such as a seminar, school or college class, or a meeting at work, it is beneficial to seek feedback from the listener(s).  What did I just say?  What did you just hear?

I recall while living in Boston how a woman stopped to ask directions to an address downtown.  I gave her carefully scripted directions, attempting not to interject extraneous information that could create confusion.  When I had finished, I looked smiling and said, “Now, repeat to me what I just said to you.”  “Oh!  You are good,” the lady exclaimed.

We humans are both blessed and cursed with words.  Once spoken, words cannot be taken back.  Once written and communicated, written words cannot be taken back.  Try as we may, back pedaling after those words are “out there”, they are out there; period.  I am often amused, not in a funny way, how politicians and celebrities try to clarify “what they really meant”.  Often, the stew gets frothier the more they attempt to “explain” and retract.

Words matter.  We communicate our feelings and emotions.  We communicate to inform and educate.  We communicate to lift up; and, to beat down.  While most of us do not calculate our words in casual settings, it is often wise to use verbal calculus when teaching, preaching, lecturing and, yes, leading.  “Choose your words wisely and carefully” carries more weight and gravitas than many might realize.  In this age of twitter, tweet storms and rapid-fire communication, it becomes all the more critical to measure one’s words before they are spoken.

But, in closing let me add one very critical aspect of communicating:  For some men, our word is our bond.  We do not “sell out”, undermine or even dare to think about being disloyal or unjust.  Honesty, integrity and truth uncompromised are our three-point guidepost.  We are the ones, who when asked, will tell you what we actually think; not want you want to hear.

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