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How to Talk So People Will Listen

At the end of any given conversation, whether it’s with co-workers, employees, or
customers, do you ever find yourself asking the following questions:
- “How many times do I have to tell them how it’s done?”
- “Why are there so many misunderstandings?”
- “Doesn’t anyone ever listen to me?”

If so, you’re not alone. In companies across the nation, communication breakdown is one
of the main challenges managers deal with on a daily basis. As a result, they spend time
restating their objectives to the same people over and over again, only to have the
intended message still get altered or confused. Depending on the situation,
communication breakdown can have severe consequences—everything from lost sales
and profits to high employee turnover rates.

The warning signs of communication breakdown include the listener losing interest
before you’re finished speaking, your being unable to get the floor at meetings, and doing
all the talking during a conversation when you want feedback. If any of these things
routinely happen to you during conversations, your communication efforts are not
effective or efficient.

Traditionally, most business leaders have spent their time attempting to change the way
others listen. This is an exercise in futility because the only element in any interaction
you can change is your part of it. Those professionals who are motivated to adjust their
speaking in order to get people to listen, develop better relations with staff, investors and
customers. The result will be fewer misunderstandings and more success in the business.
By making the following adjustments to your conversations, you too can experience the
satisfying results of positive communication.

1. Stop talking
When someone talks incessantly, the listener naturally wants to tune out. Listening is an
energy draining process, so forcing people to listen for long periods of time can wear
them out. To motivate others, especially if you are the boss or key figure in a negotiation,
be quiet and listen to others in order to discover what they are thinking. Stop talking long
enough to capture the entire essence of what the other person is saying. Listen for the
value the other person wants to add and incorporate that into your response.

2. Get to the point

Effective communicators don’t beat around the bush. They make their points clearly and
accurately. To do so, start with a single sentence that notes your positive intent. Next,
state the overall goal. Once you make your suggestion for action, follow it up with
justifications. Often, but not always, ask for feedback on the idea and allow for
brainstorming. Summarize all decisions and each person’s role with dated, specific, and
measurable commitments.
3. Take a presentation skills class
By brushing up on your speaking skills, you can “even the playing field” with those
successful but less talented colleagues who got where they are because of their excellent
oratory skills. Most accomplished speakers take a class or review a book on presentation
skills every few years to become more confident, persuasive, and effective.

4. Keep your tone neutral

During every conversation, speak to others as you want them to speak to you. Avoid
sarcasm and other hostile behaviors. When you routinely humiliate, berate, or poke fun at
others, they won’t listen to much of what you say or go the extra mile for you. Speak loud
enough so that no one must strain to hear you, and speak with authority, so you’ll be
perceived as more credible. As far as what to say, always remember to praise in public
and criticize in private, each time addressing the behavior itself and not the person’s

5. Reduce your speaking accent

When listening to someone who has a thick accent, people routinely miss 10-30 percent
of what is said. If you are completely fluent in English but still have people asking you to
repeat yourself, taking a presentation skills class that focuses on accent reduction is a
wise career move. It’s your job as the speaker to be a clear communicator, especially
since others won’t work to understand you. Additionally, listeners can become
embarrassed when they have to continually ask you to repeat yourself. Instead, very often
they’ll nod and smile, and then ask each other afterward, “What are we supposed to do?”
But there is no reason to lose your accent entirely, as a charming accent differentiates you
from the group and is part of your persona. However, with information and videotaped
training, even a couple of days of coaching can improve comprehension by 80 percent.

Being an effective communicator is the best way to get others to listen to what you say.
Since few people enjoy repeating themselves multiple times or the resulting
consequences of not getting important messages understood, improve your
communication skills so that listening is not a burden for others. The result will be that
listeners will hear and comprehend you each time you speak.

Dr. Reesa Woolf

Public Speaking Coach

Confident Public Speaking

Public Speaking Institute