Saturday, February 28, 2015

Knowing When to Shut Up

There is a fine line between communication and babbling. When children are very young, they tend to tell a story from the beginning. And I mean the beginning.

"What did you do today?" 
"I woke up and brushed my teeth. My toothbrush is pink. I like pink. Pink is my favorite color. Ann has a pink dress. But her pink dress has flowers. My pink dress doesn't have flowers. I like flowers..."

You get the point. For anyone under the age of 5 this is sort of cute. Tiring, but cute. Usually by the time children to into their teens their communication skills have slipped into something that just high enough above a grunt so that you realize that they do actually have verbal skills. 

"What did you do today?"
"Stuff." 

Interestingly enough if you get them in a room with their peers their verbal skills seem to improve drastically. 

As an adult, both options are highly flawed. We need to convey information in a concise manner. But we also need to do so in a way that gets to the point without sounding like we are being unfriendly. Blunt but friendly. So how do we manage that? 

There are a few things remember. 

1. Take a breath. Most of the time when people think I'm upset or being rude it's simply because giving them this information is simply one thing on my very long to do list. I don't stop to think through how my words will sound, or how someone my take my tight tone as "rude" rather than "rushed." Take a moment to clear your mind and focus on what it is that you want to say. Blank out the rest of the list that is making you feel anxious or pressured. It only takes a few seconds and your message will be received much better. 

2. Consider the message. Most of the time there is a point to speaking to someone. There is some specific piece of information they need. While it may be friendly to chat about your kids or spouse, your boss may be under a deadline for a report - and waiting for you to give them some part of that report. They aren't interested, in that moment, about what your kids are doing. Think about what you want or need to get across and who you are speaking to. Then present the information to the person. If you don't go in knowing what you want to say then you may find yourself babbling about something irrelevant, or forget to state a specific fact. 

3. Tone is everything. Your tone of voice can be the difference between a well received piece of information and getting completely ignored. Even when you use the exact same words. We live a world there is a lot of sarcasm and innuendo. Words have evolved to have some very different meanings from the ones we may have learned in school.  Being aware of cultural differences can also help if you are in an environment that has a multicultural population. 

4. It's not always about you. Keep in mind that there will always be someone, somewhere, who will take your words as aggressive or rude. Even when you didn't mean them that way. They may have been having a bad day, or are feeling extremely passionate about a subject. They may simply not have been taught that a debate doesn't have to be a fight. In some cases they may just be lashing out about something that has nothing to do with you, but your there. In these cases you have to determine the best course of action by analyzing the situation. Try not to take the words personally until you know that they were an intended slight against you. Even then you have to decide if the person/relationship/topic is worth having a fight over. 

Communication is an ever evolving and tricky thing. But it can be managed, and well, by those who choose to work at it.