Thirty-four gigabytes. That’s how much data has been estimated that Americans consume every day via all forms of media: TV, newspaper, Internet, radio, you name it. How does that equate to words? Statistically, there are about 100,000 words per day, on average, that Americans consume.
This as an illustration of how noisy our world has become, even in the last 5-10 years with emerging technologies that place us in the middle of broad communication networks spanning the globe.
Recognizing that our world is indeed a very noisy place with essentially an infinite number of data and media messages bombarding our every move, requires us to be highly sensitized to our communication styles if we ever want to be heard and perceived as an effective communicator, persuasive, and someone others seek out.
Below are six concrete steps lawyers may take to step up their game in being heard effectively, understood and rendered successful in their communications. After all, with more than half of a lawyer’s job relying upon the spoken word, perfecting your communication style is a wise investment in your future.
1. Think before you speak. No, really. Human beings have a tremendous capacity to listen, absorb, and respond to messages at a relatively high rate. Because of this, it is very tempting to get caught up in the fast-paced process (depending upon in what part of the country you live) and instead of actively listening and absorbing your audiences’ message, you volley back and forth in the interaction, sometimes faster than your mind can compute.
To become a more effective communicator, one must demonstrate a disciplined approach in your oral communications. Before you pop off a quick response to anyone, stop yourself to consider the impact of your words, verifying whether or not it is in your or their best interest to respond so quickly as to either short circuit the communications process and/or suffer the consequences of an ill-timed response. We adapt a 20-second rule. Before you respond, take 20 seconds (at minimum) to consider the implications of your words. Remember, what goes around comes around, karma, you’ll reap what you sow, what u give is what you get…You have a choice, make the right one.
2. Consider your audience. Just as important as it is to be mindful of our words, so too should we be mindful of our audience. The same message is not appropriate for every audience. What do I mean by that? As a practicing lawyer, what you say to a referral source about your practice would be different than what you would say to a client or client contact about your practice. Because we create impressions, and yes, visual images in the minds of our listeners, we must be purposeful and careful of how we relate to our audience with our words. Practice is required to perfect this skill.
3. Listen first and second, then speak. We have all heard that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Simply put, we do not learn when we are speaking. It is imperative that as professional services providers that we actively listen to clients, colleagues, referral sources, networking partners, and so on, to learn how we may support and help them (i.e. business opportunities). Impossible as it is to spew out all the ways we are qualified to “help” others, it is just poor form to do so before understanding what the needs are. Listen up, and you’ll be surprised at what you may learn and the opportunities which present themselves.
4. Speak to be heard; message sent/message received. Mind the communications gap. Too many miscommunications occur when we “think” we told someone (message sent) but found out later either did not and/or the listener did not remember it (message received) as we remembered sending it. It matters not where the mis-communication occurred but rather how to avoid mis-communications. First, refer to tip #1 above: think before you speak to ensure that you are in control of your message. Second, to become a more effective speaker, it is well-advised to confirm with your audience that the message received is the message you intended to send.
How do you do this? Ask for feedback “are you with me?” “does this make sense?” adapt these feedback questions to your natural communications style and you will likely see eyes light up when you speak.
5. Accentuate the positive; look inside first. Individuals who choose to lead with the negative often find they are talking only to themselves. Nobody wants to listen to negativity, especially when there is so much coming at us in the media which is negative. To become a more effective communicator, check yourself that you are not guilty of spreading negativity to others in your conversations, presentations, with clients and in networking situations. Learning the positive approach can be learned via disciplined practice and/or having a pal to send you a signal if you “go off the ‘positive’ reservation.
6. Make every word count. KISS – - keep it short and simple. Do not belabor a point. Do not offend your audience by offering too many examples when they understand your point in one. Treat words as the golden charms that they are. There is no glory in pontificating your message to feed an ego or to merely fill space. We simply have too many words in our day to waste the excess unnecessarily.
Becoming a more effective communicator requires a concerted effort on your behalf, practice and willingness to adapt to new ways of thinking. There are few things more impactful than to present your well-crafted message, and to be understood through the spoken word across all platforms. Making a presentation to an audience of clients and trade contacts and moving people to action based on your words…that is success.