The Most Important Part of Communication 

I used to sell a training course on communication. The course was literally world famous and is still taken by thousands and thousands of people each year all over the world. Most of the people who sign up for the course claim to want to become better communicators but what they really want is to be better speakers. 

There is a big difference between being a better speaker and a better communicator. They learn the difference in the very first week of that 12 week class. They discover that there are two parts to communication. Talking, which is what they signed up to learn, and listening, which they think they are already good at. 

The best communicators understand the difference between a dialogue and a monologue. They know that when they listen they learn. They linger on the words of the person speaking until they are certain that they understand their intent. 

The best communicators listen more than they talk. They know that saying something is no guarantee that it was heard. So they ask checking questions to ensure the person they are communicating with both heard and understood what was said. 

Great communicators don’t talk to another person, they talk with them. The difference in word choice and tone of voice allows for the possibility of real communication to take place. 

When I hear someone say that they learn a lot by talking to other people I immediately question (to myself) their communication skills. That’s because no one learns anything by talking. When we talk we are repeating what we already know, or think we know. It is when we stop talking to listen that we actually learn. When I hear someone say they learn a lot by listening to other people that’s when I know I’m talking with a good communicator. 

Here’s one surefire way you can be a better communicator this very day… put down the darn phone. I know it’s called a smart phone but if it was really smart it would shut itself off when it detected another life form within 3 feet of you. 

The number one cause of poor communication is distraction. The biggest distraction most of us deal with day in and day out is the hunk of electronics almost permanently attached to our hands. 

You cannot text and listen. You cannot watch videos and truly listen to another person. You can’t play whatever game you’re currently fascinated with and give another person’s words the attention they deserve. 

You cannot communicate if you’re not listening. Listening is the most important part of communication. Listening is the key that unlocks the words you need to use to deliver your message in a way that will be heard. Sometimes listening to another person speak is all you need to do to make a significant difference in their life. 

When you become a better listener you become a better person. You become better informed. You become a better friend, spouse and parent. 

You can be better in all those areas by making a decision to talk less and listen more. You may even discover that when you listen with complete attention you actually have nothing meaningful to add to the conversation. That’s when you know you’re truly a great communicator. 

If They Didn’t Hear it Then You Didn’t Say It

Leaders must be effective communicators. They must accept 100% responsibility for the success of all communications. When what they communicated was fully understood by those it was communicated to then and only then has successful communication taken place. 

Authentic Leaders never assume that communication has taken place merely because they said something. They don’t use more words than are required to clearly communicate. They don’t use bigger words than needed to be completely understood. 

They also don’t blame others for their failure to communicate effectively. They ask follow-up questions of the person they are talking with to determine if what was heard matches what they said. 

Notice I said “talking with,” not talking to. The most effective communicators understand the difference between a monologue and a dialogue. Authentic leaders know that true communication is an exchange of information.  That’s why they listen as much as they talk, actually many listen more than they talk. 

Lack of communication or miscommunication is the genesis of most conflict. 

If you’re a leader and your people didn’t understand what you communicated then you didn’t communicate. At least not effectively. You may have been better off saying nothing at all. 

Never mistake talking for communicating. Speak and listen. Verify what was said was actually heard. Verify what you heard was actually said. Authentic leaders don’t guess at what was said and they don’t assume what they said was heard. 

Poor communication skills can stop the momentum of the best organizations. It can damage the morale of the of even the most positive people. It can undermine the culture of a company. Poor communication starts more rumors than a room full of gossiping fools. 

Improve your communication skills and you’ll improve all aspects of your leadership. Struggle with your communication skills and all of your relationships will suffer as a result. 

They are called communication “skills” because like any skill they can developed and enhanced. You only have to commit to make it so!

Successful Communication

Good communicators know that just because something was said doesn’t mean it was heard. Great communicators know that even if it was heard it doesn’t mean it was understood. 

Lack of communication can be deadly for an organization, most people realize that. What some people, and unfortunately some leaders, don’t understand is that miscommunication can be just as deadly. Wars, including world wars, have literally been caused by miscommunication. 

One cause of miscommunication is an ill informed communicator. One thing I often tell people who want to be a better presenter is that if you know what you’re talking about there is no need to be nervous. I also tell them that if you don’t know what you’re talking about there is no need to be talking. 

Even well informed communicators can sometimes miscommunicate. But the very best communicators don’t. They consistently apply the following four principles for successful communication. 

First they simplify their message. They skip the lingo and use easy to understand words and phrases. They don’t use more words than required. They don’t use four syllable words when a two syllable word will do. Lessor communicators want to be impressive. Great communicators want to make an impression. 

The best communicators see the person or people they are talking with. Notice I said talk “with.” They do not talk to and they certainly don’t talk at people. They know their audience and try hard to speak in the interests of those people. 

Great communicators know that the communication doesn’t end when they leave the stage or meeting room. They know people will be watching them to determine if what they said was the truth. So they don’t only speak the truth, they show it as well. Their actions match their words. Those actions reinforce and bring their message to life. Their actions add integrity not only to the words just spoken but to their future words too. 

Top communicators know that a good dialogue is better than the best monologue. So they engage their listeners and seek a response that indicates what they said matches what was heard. They ask a question or two to determine if what was heard was also understand. 

They accept 100% responsibility for the success of the communication. They never assume because they said something that real communication has taken place. 

Communication is a skill and by definition a skill is something that can be developed. But that development depends on a desire to in fact become a more effective communicator. Effective communication is a vital skill for an Authentic Leader. Successful communication leads to successful outcomes. 

Decide today that you will develop your communication skills and the people who you lead will thank you tomorrow. 

Your People Are Watching

Leaders lead by example, whether they intend to or not. Their people are always watching them and they will do what the leader does far faster than they will do what the leader says.

That means that if you’re in a leadership position and your words and actions do not match then your people will follow your actions, not your words.

In times of difficulty, and these times are certainly that, it is imperative that you realize that you are the model for the behavior you want and need from your people. Very few people will outperform their leader in a time of crisis.

It’s also important for leaders to keep in mind that every person has this area in both their heart and head that NEEDS information. It doesn’t need accurate information, it just needs information. That area will get the information it needs come hell or high water. If it can’t find the information then it will make the information up. That type of information is called rumor.

I have never met a leader who thought that rumors were helpful. So keep this in mind…information, accurate, timely information is the archenemy of rumor. Rumor finds it much harder to exist in a sea of accurate and timely information.

So keep your people informed. You’ll be much better off with your people complaining about the ton of communication then you will be if your people are filling their information areas with fear filled rumors. Even bad and difficult information to hear is better than wrong information.

When times get challenging you simply cannot over communicate. If you’re wondering how much communication is too much I encourage you to risk what you may feel is too much information.

If you’re running a business in these uncharted waters you must remember to not lose focus on what is most important. No matter what you sell or what service you offer you are in the people business. The businesses that best take care of their people, both their employees and their customers will be the businesses that come out of the other side of this in the best shape.

The most important part of your business is people because we are all in the people business.

Now, wash your hands!

Are You a Talker or a Communicator? Part Two

In my last post we talked about accepting 100% responsibility for everything you say AND 100% responsibility for everything the person you’re speaking with hears. Once you’re willing to do that then you’ll have the opportunity to improve your own communication skills. 

 

The beauty of accepting 100% responsibility is that it doesn’t matter how good the other person’s communication skills are. You still get your message across and have the possibility of better understanding their message as well. 

 

To communicate well you’ll want to make certain that your thoughts are delivered in as clear and concise a manner as possible. It helps to have a good idea about what you’re trying to communicate. If you don’t know what you want to say how will the other person ever figure it out? 

 

Make what you’re saying easy for the other person to understand. You do not want people guessing at what you mean because if they guess wrong that’s on you. Speak the way they speak, speak at their level and never never ever talk down to someone. Once I get the sense I’m being talked down to I shut my ears off cause I figure there isn’t anything to learn from this person.

 

Don’t try to convey multiple ideas in one sentence. This is especially true in written communications. Do your best to avoid “filler” words. Phrases such as “you know” “I mean” and “kind of” usually don’t add any meaning to what you’re saying but they can make it harder to decipher your message. 

 

Practice using fewer words. Try not to use 9 words to make your point when 8 words or 7 words or 6 words or 5 words would do. (See my point?) 

 

Don’t stop communicating part way through your message. Is there something you want to happen as a result of your communication? Then say so. Make certain you’ve given the other person ALL the information they need to correctly take the action you’re wanting. Remember YOU are 100% responsible for the success of every communication. When you leave out needed details then whatever happens is your responsibility too. 

 

We all communicate in some form every day. The better you communicate the greater the credibility you will have with your customers, your boss, your coworkers, your family and friends. 

 

I can pretty much guarantee you that almost every disagreement I’ve ever had with someone came from me not investing those 2 or 3 seconds required to think about what I wanted the other person to hear and to ensure that my communication was successful. 


Everything is simpler when I communicate well. I suspect you’ll find that to be true for you too. 

Are You a Talker or a Communicator? Part One

Before I begin this post on communication I feel that I must point out that I’m only writing about half of the communication process. And it’s the least important half. 

 

The communication process of course involves speaking and listening. Of the two listening is far more important. Listening is how we learn. You will learn more in five minutes of listening then you will learn in a lifetime of talking. Sometime in the future I’ll probably do a post on listening, maybe right after I do that post on procrastination. But for now we are talking about the speaking part of the process. I should also point out that much of the speaking part can also apply to our written communications. 

 

Here’s something you might not like to hear but you’ll be a much better communicator if you believe it: you are 100% responsible for both parts of the communication. You are 100% responsible for everything you say and you are 100% responsible for everything the other person hears.

 

If you ever had a disagreement where the other person says “well you said…..” and then you say, “no, I said…..” then YOU have missed the mark as a communicator. If the person you’re speaking to doesn’t understand what you’ve said then the whole point of the communication has been missed. 

 

The first step in being a more effective communicator is to accept total responsibility for the miscommunication. If you simply blame the other person for their poor communication or listening skills then you will miss the opportunity to improve your own. 

 

Speak in such as way as to encourage the other person to listen. Use words and a tone of voice that draw your listener in. Talk in terms of THEIR interests to encourage them to linger on your words long enough to understand them. 

 

Don’t use a bigger word than you need to. Don’t use lingo you’re familiar with, use their lingo. Or don’t use lingo at all. Sometimes people use lingo to try and impress someone but what’s truly impressive is being able to communicate in a way that anyone can understand. 

 

What surprises me most about my own communications is how often I say something with no consideration of how it will sound to the person I’m speaking with. I just blurt it out. I mean who has time to think about what they are saying before they say it. 

 

Well, I have time. So do you. 

 

The challenge is taking 2 or 3 seconds, yep, that’s all it takes, to consider our words before we say them. There will be a bit of silence in that two or three seconds and we, well me, thinks that makes us look stupid, like we don’t know what to say. 

 

Abraham Lincoln once said something like “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” 

 

Talkers talk. Communicators chose their words to convey the intended message. Which one are you? 

 

I’ve been working hard at thinking about what I’m about to say for a few seconds before I say it. What I’ve found is that I often end up not saying anything. It’s like my mom always told me…if you have nothing of value to add to a conversation then perhaps nothing is what you should add. 


In the second part of this post we’ll look at some of the more technical aspects of effective communication. There are clearly methods of communication that work and methods that don’t. We’ll be looking at the ones that work! 


Ten Cent Words

My grandfather was a pretty wise man and I was fortunate to spend a great deal of time with him. He owned a corner grocery store for four decades and for several years I would go with him to the produce market at 4:00am every Saturday morning. It was in those early hours of the day when I learned the most. 

 

Of the many things he taught me one still stands out above most others, perhaps it is because at the time I had no idea what he meant. He said that people who want to sound smart will use a ten cent word when a five cent word would be perfectly fine. He also said that people who actually are smart would never waste a ten cent word when a five cent word was enough. 

 

What I came to understand was that smart people don’t try to impress people with big words. They speak as plainly as they can. They also don’t use more words than are needed. 

 

For instance, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of history’s most famous and remembered speeches – the Gettysburg Address. It was 273 words. It took 2 minutes to deliver. The main address that day (the one Lincoln followed) was given by Edward Everett (known to be one of the greatest speakers of the time) and lasted 2 hours. His note to Lincoln after the event said…“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

 

Are you a Lincoln or an Everett?  Let me ask that another way; do you use 50 words when 25 would do? Are you using ten cent words when five cent words would convey the identical message?  

 

I once took a presentation class where I was assigned a topic to speak on. I was given 10 minutes for my presentation without much coaching. When I was done I was assigned to speak on the subject a second time. This time I was only allowed 8 minutes and instructed that I could not leave out any of the key points I made in the first presentation. 

 

When I finished the second presentation I was told to make the presentation yet again, with the same key points but to complete it in six minutes. This went on for a few more rounds until I was given just two minutes to make the same presentation with the same key points. 

 

The coaching at this point was rather intense but I managed to pull it off. The point of the exercise was very clear… most of the words I had used in my first presentation added nothing of consequence to the presentation. They may have made me sound smarter (well, maybe) but they did nothing to assist my listeners in understanding my message. In fact, the fewer words I used the easier it was for my audience to understand. 

 

So I ask again, are you a Lincoln or an Everett? It’s takes a lot of practice to make your point while using fewer words, I struggle with that often. (Just ask my wife, kids, dogs, or anyone around me a lot) 


The next time you’re preparing a presentation or even just engaged in a conversation with a friend, consider the simplicity of a five cent word. You can save the ten cent words for when you’re trying to impress yourself.