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April 30, 2013

Encouraging Changes People Desire

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Issue #24: April 30, 2013

Improving Communications Skills - Part 5
(The words, tone and substance really matters)

Do you realize your choice of words and tones in your voice often affect the likelihood of communication successes or failures? And trying to reach agreements on sensitive subjects often leads to stress and resentments when communications do break down? Why is this, and how can we improve the odds of success?

People often spend time fighting over petty things. When potentially wasted time and energy is channeled to positive efforts, people do much better, physically and mentally. Often a bit more knowledge and proper planning is what's needed.

Effective communicators, such as mediators, select appropriate words and tone to accomplish their objectives. These valuable skills help keep people's emotions in check. People think more clearly, and more likely become professionally and personally successful.

Take serious situations seriously! Unless one is only facing challenges from Mother Nature, one's challenges involve other people. Well-honed communications skills are often the difference between problems that get worse (like cancer), and creating win-win situations.

Getting Started: When faced with tough challenges, make sure you clearly understand and analyze them first. You may be thinking: 'Are people deliberately trying to create problems for me?' But that's rarely true. In any case, figure out why the situation is happening, and come up with some good solutions. If you can't do this yourself, solicit help from others.

Once you have a general plan in mind, it may be time to communicate with other stakeholders. You will likely need to solicit their understanding and/or cooperation to improve or resolve the matter. Assuming the situation is complex (involving lots of people, etc.), plan out your future communication in advance. Write down your thoughts in a logical order, perhaps using bullet points. Once again, don't be shy to solicit help from people you have confidence in.

Time to consider the Words and Tone: As a general rule, when dealing with a serious matter, it's best to be "firm but fair". CAUTION: Firm does NOT mean "mean", "nasty", or "totally rigid". It simply means to express expectations clearly and confidently. FYI: One can actually be firm and still have a friendly tone simultaneously.

Select age appropriate words. Don't talk to a 5 year old like you talk to adults, and vice versa. Eliminate inappropriate jokes and humor when having a serious conversation; that way, your message will be more likely taken seriously, fully understood, and achieve your desired results.

Be empathetic and understanding: When people sincerely care about others, it increases the likelihood the other party will care about them and be more cooperative and helpful.

The basic format: When initiating important communications, it's normally best to start upbeat; discuss some topics that are positive and both parties feel good about. Whenever practical, ask questions; make sure the other party is following, responding and fully engaged. If the other party has gotten a bit lost, go back and help them get back on track.

Next, begin discussing the potentially difficult subjects. Explain why they are important to focus on. Conclude on a positive note, and include next steps for each party to do.

Example: When I review employees, the format I use is discuss the 1) positives the employee achieved since the last review, 2) problem areas that need to be improved, 3) other significant things that are neither positive nor negative, 4) questions you and the other party have for each other, 5) goals to achieve going forward, and lastly 6) compensation.

It's well planned out: The employees know the format ahead of time, and email me their responses prior to the meeting. When the lines of communication are fully open, there is no limit to what can be accomplished!

Issue #24 Podcast: Play/Download Podcast Here

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Future Articles will continue "dissecting" and analyzing what it takes to become a more effective communicator. I encourage you to communicate with me; please give me feedback on these articles, and suggestions on future articles.

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Larry Rudwick

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