People Really Need to Understand What I’m Telling Them
About 2 billion people in the world speak English—and I’m speaking in English.
Almost anywhere you go in the world, knowing the language of each country is useful, but if you speak English you can communicate. Lots of people will be eager to speak to you in English. It’s the language of business around the world.
So here’s the question.
If you speak English and I speak English, why can’t I make you understand what I’m telling you?
Well, that way of thinking may be a bit over the top, but I used to actually think that way—that everyone should listen, hear, and understand what I said. I went at it carefully. I developed a large vocabulary, studied logic, and practiced my presentations one-on-one and to groups. Still people said they couldn’t understand what was my point, that I didn’t make it well, and they wouldn’t agree with me even if they understood me.
Communicating effectively through speech and in writing is one of the most critical skills you possess. There was never a time when your ability to speak and convince was more important than now. Today it’s technology that gets things done—but as a leader you who must create your own vision of where things are going in your world and get people to organize behind your ideas. People today want and need leadership. They need you to communicate with them well.
Here are some of the questions you must answer to be heard and followed:
- Why Are You Talking to Me—Do I Know You? We think that arguments are won on logic—but people are convinced through relationships. Who are you most likely to believe? Someone you began talking to in a line to get an oil change, or to a trusted friend, family member, or work colleague?
If you’re trying to convince or sell, before you begin to barrage people with your words, begin by establishing a relationship. Be sure to spend time establishing a relationship—at least ten minutes before you begin to convince them to buy, sell, believe you, hire you, promote you, or fall in love with you. They may try to shift the conversation to transactional things, but try to stay on relationship-building with them as long as possible.
Establishing a relationship early on with a person is like walking across a pond where there are logs you need to land on—you do it deliberately and carefully, step by step, so you don’t end up in the water. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” “Where do you live?” “What has your life been like during Covid?” There is a gradual transition until you are ready to connect and engage.
I know many people who, upon meeting them, will tell you about sickness in their families, professional problems, relationship issues—they will monologue for 30 minutes. But they will never ask you about yourself, and if you tell them, a glaze comes over their eyes until they can get back to talking about themselves. Don’t be that person. Like a good game of tennis, relationships are built on interactivity.
- Are We in the Same Tribe? Human beings started in tribes. In ancient times there was the chief, the council, and tribe members. Our ancestors hunted together, waged war together, and in the evenings by the fire they told stories about heroes and ancestors and chanted songs. Without the protection of the tribe, nobody could live safely.
Tribal communication with each other was driven by the beliefs of the tribe. If the tribe believed that the world was flat, if you knew it was round, it wasn’t wise to point that out. There could be huge consequences. We haven’t advanced much beyond that today. Be careful what you say in the tribe.
Today we still live in tribes—and we still speak according to the convictions of our tribe. Tribes are now the organizations and groups we are affiliated with. They are communities of faith, political parties, professional organizations, neighborhoods and zip codes, Facebook and social media communities, clubs, and families.
I live in a US, Texas “blue neighborhood,” whose convictions politically are left of center. The state of Texas is center right to far right. Austin is an island of blue. I know what I can say on my neighborhood list that is safe to say. If I say the same thing on Facebook with my far right friends, they will be saddened and very possibly enraged. What I can say in my community of faith or at the office is not the same. If I want to hold my family together, I have to be very careful what I say—or do as many American families do, keep silent.
So must I never give my opinion in my tribes? No, there are a range of issues that you can weigh in on as long as you don’t go against the basic belief system if they don’t violate the basics—and exercise leadership. But if you go against the basic beliefs of the tribe, you must do it very carefully or not at all. You must be careful who you talk to. If you talk to everyone, you’ll lose your case. Identify the opinion leaders and make your case to them. It takes a great deal of time and effort. When they’re onboard, you’ll be able to talk to the group.
- What’s Your Personality Type—How Can We Understand Each Other? Not just knowing your personality type, but knowing how to use type is one of the most underutilized and powerful ways of getting your point across. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the most useful tools in navigating and managing differences between people. As an ENTJ, (Extroverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging, closure-driven guy) I am 1.8% of the population. That means that an astounding 98.2% of people I talk to are not going to agree to my approach to business and life. Take a look at our Delta Interactive Type Table and see what type percentage you are.
There are 16 different personality types, and each type is a small percentage of the whole population. Knowing type differences and how to approach each type makes powerful communicators. When you can step out of the way you live life and put yourself solidly in another person’s mindspace, you will have achieved one of the most powerful things a communicator can do.
- Have We Spent the Face Time Necessary to Build Rapport? There is no substitute for face time to build trust and rapport. In these months of COVID it has been surprising to us that often you can get more direct conversation on Zoom than you would in a person-to-person meeting. In pre-COVID times, I don’t know how often I heard a manager say to some of his or her direct reports, “Why don’t you all go out for a beer and get to know each other?”
Certainly getting to know each other in social situations is important, but a methodical way to create group understanding is in sessions that build relationships and trust, even if those happen on Zoom. It’s fundamental to building a high-performance team. Without these organized session where people get to know each other and set ground rules and expectations, teams will drift in a sea of frustrations.
So why don’t people understand what I’m telling them? It turns out that I’m not the standard of what people should say, do, and consider important. Communicating is what makes us human beings, and different from any other species. It is complex, exciting and frustrating. It is the tool most key to the outcome of our lives, but it takes working at it intentionally and investing the time and energy to do it well.