Did You Hear What I Intended to Say?

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

Words create pictures in our minds of the past, present and future, sometimes melded together. They convey emotions, attitudes, and the speaker's level of understanding and ability to communicate, in addition to their objective meaning. The next time someone is speaking with you, take note of the pictures created in your mind. Are they helping you communicate your thoughts or getting in the way?

Approximately 80% of communication is nonverbal, but the words we choose still have a huge impact in setting ourselves up for success or failure. Often, the message you intend to send is not the message that's received, causing compromised communication, frustration, and poor results.

Some signs you are not effectively conveying your intended message:

  • Someone says, "I don't know what you said, but what I heard was (fill in the blank)."
  • People appear not to be focusing on the conversation.
  • You feel negative emotional energy in the room (if the other person feels misunderstood, he may perceive it as an attack and respond in fight mode).
  • You get smiles and nods when you speak with someone but never see her follow through with what you discussed.

It's unfortunate, but many people today tend to overcomplicate the message. Here are some reasons:

  • The speaker wants to demonstrate you how much he/she knows.
  • The speaker is trying to get to the bottom line quickly to save time.
  • The speaker feels an over-the-top level of enthusiasm about the topic and wants everyone to share that enthusiasm.
  • The speaker lacks self-confidence or self-esteem and resorts to industry jargon to hide this fact.
  • There's a lack of connection between the speaker and the audience.

There are many actions/attitudes you can adopt to increase communication effectiveness:

  • Maintain an internal attitude of respect for yourself and the people with whom you are speaking. If you lose that respect for anyone (including yourself), it will project and degrade your communication.
  • Maintain an attitude that you want others' participation, thoughts and ideas. Communication is a two-way street.
  • Take time to understand the people with whom you are speaking, especially their level of understanding. Tailor your communications to be easily understood from their perspective.
  • Share successes with the group with whom you communicate. Stress through your behavior that success is a team sport.
  • Choose your words wisely. Speak simply and directly. Using unnecessarily complex language, industry jargon, or "business-speak" isn't productive.
  • If you find it necessary to use esoteric words, define them first so people can follow the conversation in the moment.
  • Whether you're speaking or writing, you have only five seconds to capture a person's attention. Furthermore, people process information through multiple lenses. Take that into consideration and ask yourself what you need to do to capture their attention.

Effective communication requires you to fully understand your objective (what is most important to convey) as well as both parties' perspectives. Remember that failing to choose your words wisely can enable these over/under tones to get in the way, taking you to a place you never intended to go.