Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It’s Scary to Listen to Me!

Well, not really, but sometimes it is truly amazing what comes out of someone’s mouth.

Communications can be derailed by unintended comments.

For example, picture a person in a persuasive conversation with another individual to change their mind or sell them a project; the speaker leans in – inspiring sincerity – and says “to tell the truth…” This may be used as a transition term with an intent to demonstrate trustworthiness (if any thought was given) – however now the listener is on alert, thinking – ‘if this is labeled as truth, what about all the other stuff I’ve heard.’ Flash freeze on changing a mind now.

What about someone who is telling you about the scope of services and launches into a story recounting a number of customers who deliver complex jobs at the 11th hour and want it delivered in record time? The speaker is demonstrating what?: top notch customer service, going the extra mile, working miracles? Sally Strackbein points out in her communications training “don’t talk about what you don’t want!” What does the listener take away from the Super-Services delivery: I can use these folks for last minute panic stuff. Is this the intent of the message?

How about a presenter who speaks in acronyms? Or in the slang of the industry? Or is so busy dropping names that the point of the discourse is lost? It’s pretty hard to recapture the attention of a listener who has checked out. But wait, there’s still more ways that speakers can torpedo their conversations.

Is it effective to drop the phrase ‘to kill two birds with one stone’ when speaking with the Audubon Society, or to try to sound more impressive by using unfamiliar words – e.g., ‘forget the guy! Just illiterate him from your memory’. [obliterate] At best this confuses the communications as the listener reacts to personal sensibilities.

Yogi Berra is famous for butchering the language (also for being a Hall of Fame catcher too). Folks hang on his every word, chuckling with delight when he launched another Yogi-ism. He entertains. He does not persuade or sell with his banter. Relive some of the classics: “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there.” “The little things are big.” “The future ain’t what it used to be.” You’d say HUH?, smile a little, and move on. No effect on your view of Yogi’s professional activities as a catcher for the Yankees; right?

Unfortunately, as professionals, we are expected to be clear in our communications and articulate our thoughts to lead, persuade, sell, educate and direct. When we miss the mark by uttering something unintended, our goal is now harder to achieve. Communicate simply, and give care to what you are saying. We are not infallible and will make mistakes – unavoidable to be sure – but being aware will help to minimize the frequency.

Let’s give Yogi the last word on the subject:

“I really didn’t say everything I said!” Don’t we wish!!!

Does it make sense to not say wrong things? Your thoughts and stories?


  1. One of my biggest pet peeves is the presentation introduction, "For those of you who don't know me, my name is..." I have been known to shout out, "What's your name for those of us who DO know you?"
    Sylvia Henderson
    Springboard Training

  2. Sometimes you just want to laugh out loud - do folks ever listen to what they are saying??

    When I was back in 'little school' (elementary school) we learned certain things by rote - it was a mindless repetition process (but effective – I can still do the multiplication tables through 12x12). My point here is that pretty quickly we’d stop listening to what we said in practicing.

    Same seems to be true with adults – in this case, many have begun with the same ‘rote phrase’ they have heard somewhere and added to their intro. Doesn’t add a thing – like ‘point in time’ used for the concept of NOW. Perhaps you can arrange to be next during the intros and begin with “For those of you who know me, my name is…”. See if it makes they say Huh??

    Great point! Thanks.