Oral Communication Essentials
“Two monologues do not make a dialogue.” ~ Jeff Daly
In this, the third segment of our five-part series on mastering communication, I’ll tackle what sometimes seems like a lost art—oral communication. Our growing dependence on technology in our communications has come at cost, it would seem, to our verbal communications based on observation, pervasive complaints, and employer concerns.
It needn’t be this way. After all, at least in theory, we should have fewer communication breakdowns, when done orally. The benefits, when compared with written communications, are profound:
- We can observe important non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language
- We hear the tone of voice, which adds style and emotion to our message and reinforces our words
- We receive instant feedback and give-and-take with our audiences; misunderstandings can be swiftly corrected through clarifications and elaboration
- Our communications are more naturally two-way in nature, which are especially important when topics are sensitive, provocative, or private in nature
- We can engage, support, and encourage more deeply
Surely, written communication can be easier, less emotionally draining, and more efficient, but oral communications are easily more effective because of the above.
Interestingly, some years ago, Performance Advantage conducted a survey to identify the greatest motivators in a workforce, from the perspective of employees. The top three responses are also highly relevant to this topic:
- Being appreciated and recognized
- Being involved in decisions/in the know
- Being understood by an approachable boss
Considering the above, would oral or written communications most likely hit the mark?
Before sharing our best oral communication tips, let’s identify our key goals and what makes communication effective. First, is mutual understanding. Note this doesn’t necessarily mean mutual agreement, but, rather, knowing each other’s position/perspective. This is made possible through give and take, elaboration, and clarification. Second, is mutual engagement. This is accomplished through active listening, follow-up questioning, approachability, empathy, humility, kindness, and mutual respect. All parties are made to feel heard. They are agreeable when disagreeing. Conversations are constructive. Communication is two-way.
Strategies and Tactics
Keeping in mind the above goals, here are some of our best tips for winning oral communications:
- Enter with the right attitude. Before any communication can be constructive, all parties need to be in a positive frame of mind. That way, we can begin with a spirit of mutuality and maintain a proper tone. On the other hand, if we are angry, upset, tense, or emotionally charged, it’s best to have a cooling off period before we engage in conversation. This is particularly important for parent-child communication. If our timing is off, it can do more harm than good.
- Be fully engaged at all times. Demonstrate through your words, tone, and non-verbals that you are committed to a positive conversation. Strive to let the other party do more of the talking. Focus on active listening and responding with genuine interest and follow-up questions. Avoid interruptions like the plague.
- Think “share with” vs. “talk to.” One of the best ways to achieve mutual understanding is to have a sharing, collaborative mindset during the conversation. One of the most common communication complaints is when people feel they are being talked to instead of being a co-equal participant. (The first few lines of the song, “Everbody’s Talkin’” come to mind!) The resulting sense of disrespect breeds disengagement and resentment. Again, this is a huge issue with parent-child communications. How we say it can matter more than what we say.
- Be a student of your audience. It helps to know the personality makeup and background of our audience, to the extent possible in order to customize our communications and hit the mark. (We highly recommend the DISC personality test for this purpose.)
Additionally, knowing the context of our conversation and audience makeup help determine how formally/professionally/casually we should share our thoughts. Many young people are so accustomed to casual conversation that they have difficulty in more professional/adult contexts (e.g., job interviews). It’s important for them to learn how to adapt their communications to different audiences.
Also, it’s essential to observe the facial expressions of our audience to ensure they are interested and correctly receiving our message. If there is misunderstanding, it often appears via expressions. When our audience seems confused or bothered, it pays to pause and ask if there are questions to provide the necessary clarification. Be sure you, and the children you are guiding, can identify expressions indicating boredom, confusion, irritation, distraction, and strong disagreement.
- Separate fact from opinion. Increasingly, communication breakdowns are occurring when emotionally charged topics are on the table. Thanks in large part to the editorialization of the news media, we are often guilty of stating as fact, what is in actuality opinion. We’ll have more to say on conflict resolution in our last part in the series, but for now, let’s all strive to keep these separate and to be respectful disagreers.
- Remember the three motivators. Previously, I mentioned the top three motivators of a workforce (being appreciated, valued for our input, and understood by an approachable boss) that apply so well to general oral communications, regardless of our audience.
We invite you to check out our three books: What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and Wings Not Strings: Parenting Strategies to Let Go with Confidence, as each has extensive sections on communication.
See you next time when we delve into written communication.