Speak to be understood, not to be heard

coach2Recently, I took a swim lesson from a new coach. It is the off-season for me as a triathlete and a good time to focus on technique. She watched me swim for several minutes after which I asked her what needed to be fixed. She paused and then uttered magical words to me:”There are a million ways to tell you but I am trying to figure out what will work for you.” I have held a long-standing belief that little knowledge understood is much more powerful than perfect knowledge not understood. And herein lies a powerful communication tip for anyone in the business of knowledge transfer – speak to be understood, not to be heard.

Whether a coach, a leader, a parent, a teammate or a workplace employee, all too often powerful insight, knowledge and wisdom are compromised simply because the audience cannot understand the message because it is being delivered in a mode or place that makes sense to the messenger, not the audience. I see parents, for example, having well thought-out logical conversations with a child who does not even understand the vocabulary being used.  There is a comical scene in one of my favorite movies Ferris Beuller’s Day Off where the professor is talking about economics to a class that has fallen asleep. I see leaders espousing great insights but at the wrong time at the wrong place using the wrong language simply because they are in a hurry.
This week, pick a few times when you feel like you have something important to share. Before you do, take a pause and ask the same reflective question that my swim coach asked. Look at your audience and think through how they can understand you, instead of you being heard. Change your verbals, non verbals and even timing or location to optimize the chances of being understood. Check in after to make sure the message was understood. Because of the approach my swim coach took, I plan to see her more often – and your audience will do the same with you.
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