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The real reason so many people are such bad communicators

Posted Thursday, April 7, 2011, at 4:50 PM

From the anal-retentive drones whose PowerPoint presentations seem to last for weeks to the overbearing braggart who can't stop telling you how wonderful he is, some people just aren't very good at communicating.

You've probably also experienced the awkward silences, stammered replies and mid-sentence brain freezes that can stall a meeting, presentation or date.

Some people err of the side of too much talking, while others err on the side of too little.

We tend to think of great communicators as great talkers. But as the bores and braggarts reveal, it's not the quantity of words that makes you a skilled communicator; it's the quality.

Communication expert author Alan Weiss says, "People have a tendency to tell others everything they know," as opposed to just what the listener needs to hear.

Weiss, the author of Million Dollar Speaking, says, "Ironically, people talk too much because they don't listen well. If you don't listen well, you start thinking ahead to what you want to say."

Sharing too much information lessens your impact, especially if you share it in big, long droning sentences like the Charlie Brown teacher talk (wah-woh-wah-wah).

Who hasn't been in a meeting where the loudest voices took precedence over the best ideas?

But why do people let the over-talkers get away with it? That's where the under-communicators come in.

Weiss, a consultant who works with major corporations and who also mentors consultants and professional speakers (www.summittconsulting.com), says, "People might not speak up in meetings because there are strong personalities in the room that they don't want to argue with or debate."

When people appear to be very opinionated, we assume that they'll defend that opinion, so we don't want to say anything that might counter it.

But in many cases, it's a false assumption. Weiss cites the example of a strong CEO whose employees believed they couldn't disagree with him. The office scuttlebutt was "don't challenge the boss," but Weiss himself found that the CEO was actually very receptive to hearing conflicting arguments.

People don't speak up, says Weiss, because they're afraid it will ruin the relationship.

It's kind of ironic. You stay silent for fear of ruining the relationship, but what sort of a relationship do you have if one person is always biting their tongue?

Another reason people are often afraid to speak out is because they feel like they don't have all the facts. But as Weiss points out, you don't have to have all the facts to raise the issue. All you have to say is, "I'm concerned about this; can we discuss it?"

If you're a big yakker, it's hard to understand how someone could sit silently on the sidelines, especially if they have an opinion about something.

As someone who struggles with the over-talker affliction myself, I often have to remind myself it's just as hard for some people to speak up as it is for me to shut up.

Here's the bottom line: The advice to over-talkers and under-talkers is exactly the same: listen intently to what the other person is saying, figure out how you can add to the outcome, and then tailor your message appropriately.

The more you listen, the more powerful and succinct you can make your own message.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, business strategist, columnist and the President of McLeod & More, Inc. an international training and consulting firm. She is the author of The Triangle of Truth, a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for Leaders, "the ultimate guide for solving problems and managing conflict."

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Angst is in the air: Be careful it's catching
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.