Even the Pros Flub

I’ve been watching the news a lot lately, getting drawn into the drama around healthcare and politics in general. One thing I’ve noticed, politicians and public figures can be as bad at communicating as any Jack or Jill.

Look at what Joe Biden said about the government’s handling of the economy, Mark Sanford said (and said, and said) about his affair and David Letterman’s off-color comment about Sarah Palin’s daughter. And why does Barack Obama, a gifted communicator by any standard, keep stuffing his foot in his mouth?

One reason is these folks are under tremendous and constant pressure. I get that. But with all the time they spend in the public spotlight you’d think their brains would be better calibrated by now.

If people so accustomed to public speaking foul up, surely it can happen to anyone, and it does. What can you do about it?

First, use your head! Think about your point, your destination, and then get to the point as fast as possible. Straying from your course can only get you in trouble or maybe even get you labeled as a windbag. I had an employee who loved metaphors. If he wanted to say, “yes,” it began with, “it’s like the guy in the bar talking to the pretty girl…” Jesus, we’re all busy so just get to the point.

Take the time to listen. Steve Covey said, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” Too many people prefer the “show-up and throw-up” approach Sales people are the worst. Most of them just want to give their presentation and seemingly don’t care about their audiences’ needs. Forty-two slides, yikes! Don’t start talking until you’ve taken the time to fully understand the situation or problem and then address the situation. There’s no law stating that you have to regurgitate everything you know on every subject.

Take a breath. I know you have a lot to say. We all do. But it’s always good to slow down, let the last words said run through your (and everyone else’s) head before responding. The person that speaks last has the most information and is not only able to summarize accurately, but often offer the best course of action.

Take notes if at all possible. My boss used to say, “There seems to be a direct connection between my hand and my memory. If I write it down, I remember it. If I don’t, I won’t.” The physical act of writing improves memory.

Avoid challenging statements and ask a lot of questions. If you think someone is wrong or misguided simply say, “Help me understand…?” A non-combative approach beats the heck out of, “You’re wrong!”

This is all common sense but it bears repeating. There’s more information floating around than at any time in the history of history. We are all in danger of miscommunicating and misunderstanding. Take your time and make sure you understand before trying to be understood.