Having poor conversational skills is the root cause of many misunderstandings at work. It leads to wasted time in meetings, and contributes to disengagement. I see this in workplaces: leaders don’t say what they mean, or they embellish; they don’t get to their point clearly.
It’s one of the reasons managers avoid difficult performance reviews and feedback — their language and conversations skills are lacking. When trying to have any kind of meaningful discussion that involves human performance, we’re afraid of the strong emotions that lie beneath. We’re not sure we’ll know what to say.
In the work I do with leaders in organizations, I find people are rarely succinct or precise with their language. People take much longer than necessary to express their ideas. Consequently, listeners tend to let their minds wander, often formulating their own stories in their heads. The “conversation” then becomes a series of monologues rather than any meaningful flow and exchange between people.
We speak on average at 100 words per minute, but we think faster, about 600 words per minute. This is why leaders must first capture and then keep people’s attention. And do so in a focused way, getting to the point directly so the other person’s mind doesn’t wander off.
Being succinct provides the listener bite-sized pieces of information to process. If your sentences are embellished, with complex side-comments, you are providing rabbit holes and distractions to your main point.
Our working memories can only hold seven things at a time. When people listen to you, they are mentally finding connections in their own minds to what you are saying. Given how complex our brains are, the more succinctly we can describe our thoughts to others, the more chance these connections can occur.
Adult learning occurs when we create new connections to what we already know. So if you’re trying to have a coaching conversation with a valued staff person, you want the person to be able to generate maps in their own mind about what you are saying and give them time to compare these to their existing maps, so that they might make connections between the two.
Being succinct and specific gives both the speaker and the listener time and energy to go deeper into topics, or to move to a new issue. It requires the speaker to be really clear about what they want to say. It requires asking many questions. When I’m coaching executives, they often know what they want to say, but lack succinct language to say it. It’s a big reason to work with a coach.
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