You have brilliant ideas, and so much to say – but sometimes, the way we say them and the words we use can doom them from the start with our listeners.
Just making a few small changes here and there can drastically improve our chances of being heard, and getting the response we are looking for – when we’re trying to get agreement, resolve a conflict, or just express how we feel.
Doubting your statement before you begin
“Just off the top of my head…” “You clearly know more about this than me, but…” In saying these things, you are telling your listeners to take what you say with a large pinch of salt. Often this is because we don’t feel confident in what we’re saying, or we don’t want to appear arrogant, but telling others not to feel confident is starting on the back foot unnecessarily. Give yourself more power from the off.
Making a statement sound like a question
This is a classic way to avoid conflict – introducing a new idea as if you are inviting debate and criticism. “What about running the Christmas marketing campaign early?” may seem like a diplomatic way of making a suggestion, but it sounds as though you’re already doubting its validity. Everyone else won’t hear your well-thought-out opinion – they will hear a question that’s open to comment. “I think we should run the Christmas marketing campaign early. That way we could deal with our immediate orders and have time to plan for the rest.” Now that’s a powerful place to start.
It’s important to notice the inflection of your voice, too. Adding an upward inflection at the end of statement makes what you just said sound as though you meant it to be a question, even if it wasn’t one. Stopping that makes you sound immediately more authoritative.
Take your time and pause
Rushing what you have to say gives the impression that you feel you’re taking up space in a conversation that you don’t feel you have the right to own.
“This is something that’s really important to us, because we believe that everyone should have access to continuous professional development, and in fact we’ve added a fair chunk to next year’s budget to cover it, which is when we want to plan in the next programme of training, so we really need to consult all team members next week about their training gaps…”
Instead of allowing your thoughts to tumble out on top of each other and detract from the main point, take your time and put in some pauses – it gives you so much more authority, and some time to gather your thoughts as well:
“This is something that’s really important to us. We believe that everyone should have access to continuous professional development. In fact we’ve added a fair chunk to next year’s budget to cover it, which is when we want to plan in the next programme of training. So we really need to consult all team members next week about their training gaps…”
All we’ve changed here is the punctuation, but the second speech sounds so much calmer, more confident and more self-assured.
“I’m just wondering if…” – drop the ‘just’. It implies that your question is an imposition, and not particularly important. Don’t include it, and your question instantly gains more power.
Giving Feedback – the word ‘but’
“I loved your presentation, but I think you’ve included too much text at the end.” – that single little ‘but’ immediately invalidates everything you said before it, because you’re making this last bit the most important part of the feedback. Instead, try being specific, brief and advice-free, and include how you felt – for example: “I was confused by the summary of your presentation because there was a lot of detail.” And pause…they will come to their own conclusion, while also understanding that they lost you a little at the end!
Give some thought to the way others speak, and see if you can find ways to make your speech more powerful – you will be surprised by the results.