How to Talk So People Listen

If a manager’s job is to motivate people toward achieving a common goal then succeeding at this, requires a whole range of communication skills, ranging from delivering prepared talks to engaging teams in change initiatives, to supporting individuals to overcome obstacles.

A survey of recruiters by the University of Pittsburg’s Katz Business School identified that communication skills were the most decisive factor in recruiting new managers. The survey went on to assert that communication skills, along with relationship skills were the main contributors to job success.

So what is effective communication? It’s all about sending and receiving messages as clearly, unambiguously and with as little distortion as possible. Communication is successful when both the sender and the receiver share the same understanding of the message.

Here are some suggestions to help you achieve that:

  • Identify the key messages to be delivered
  • Factor in the diverse needs of different audiences
  • Choose the most appropriate media to get your message across
  • Consider how to measure the effectiveness of your communication

What do you do to make sure you get your message across clearly and effectively?

25 Responses to How to Talk So People Listen

  • Dear Julie Kay,

    I especially appreciated this part, “Communication is successful when both the sender and the receiver share the same understanding of the message.” I know when I’ve achieved that moment, because the person generally looks at ease, and there is no tension between us. When you both understand something in the same way, even if it’s not necessarily positive for both parties you are able to let go of misunderstanding, and move on.

    I recently wrote my own blog about listening, I hope you might check it out. I will tweet it at you!

    Thanks for this informative article!

  • Thanks for tweeting this out Julie, it’s a great topic.
    I’ve seen a lot has to do with the manager actually caring for the success of each of their direct reports. Their success means the manager’s success. Actually caring for the direct reports goes a long way towards ensuring communication is understood because the manager is willing to go the extra mile to do so. Caring will also inspire the manager seek the tools and approaches to do a better job of it.

    A lot of times there is no shortcut. As you said, a manager has to verify that a communication is understood, but just as important is that the direct reports need to develop the understanding that they also need to be proactive in making sure they understand. I have seen too many strained environments in which the direct reports are just too intimidated to get clarification and end up either asking others if they got it or simply moving forward with their fingers crossed. I have worked with people who had no patience for my questions and need for clarity yet expected me to accomplish a project to their satisfaction. Communication usually has a lot of assumption embedded into it and both parties need to be active in rooting any of it out – together.

    • I agree totally with your point about the manager needing to care enough for the success of their direct reports. In fact my next blog post which will be uploaded on Wednesday is talking about deciding to care enough to listen. Thanks for your great response.

  • A good evaluation principle is to remember that “The meaning of your communication is the response you get”.
    This helps formulate ‘test’ questions such as “So, can you just summarise for me what I said/we agreed/you are going to do…”

    As others have said, if the communication ‘fails’ it is ALWAYS my own fault – wrong words, place, time…

  • I once had an employee who never took the time to listen to suggestions from peers or supervisors. He would cut off anyone who tried to make a point and tell them why they were wrong. Many times he shot down suggestions before others had a chance to clearly communicate ideas. It was taking a toll on the entire department and rumors were swirling that he was on the chopping block. Then I learned a simple technique that always stopped him in his tracks whenever I made a suggestion. I told him a short story that illustrated the value of what I was sharing with him. He still gave push-back from time to time but for the most part the problem was resolved and he became much more effective as a leader.

    • Sounds like a great result for you, him and the whole department Greg. I would love it if you would give an example of one of the stories and how you used it.

  • Am now equiped with a new tool from this article “The factor in the diverse needs of different audiences”, it will help improve my community blog, thanks Julie.

  • It’s so easy to get frustrated when people “just don’t get it”. This article is a timely reminder to make sure I am getting my message across clearly and effectively. When it doesn’t happen, it’s so easy to blame the other person. Taking responsibility and working out another way the message can be shared is something to keep top of mind.
    Great article Julie, thanks!

    • I like what you say about finding another way to share the message. Sometimes we fall into the trap of repeating the message only LOUDER! Identifying the best mode of delivery, eg voice, written, visual as well as the most effective channel eg email, face to face, video et.c will address this. Thanks Emma

  • Julie, I love when you say: “share same understanding”. This is true when you have people from different cultures (where the meaning of a word may change the whole concept and some people don’t realize it – so, be cautious with accent) and it is also true when you have ambiguous message on a work to be done (it is key for you to avoid confusion and clarify: You said project X is the one so, project Z will be delayed”) and it is also true when you are setting expectations so you don’t create frustration nor disappointment. Communication is important for managers, with customers and for any relationship you have.

  • This post spoke to me: I need to pause….take a moment to think….before I speak! Thank you!

  • Most of the communication I do is online as a Social Media coach. But, the rules still apply – in a bit of a different way. Know your target market, speak to them through educational based marketing statements – not blatant sales. Choose the best venue – is it Twitter, Linked In, Facebook business page, or perhaps a video on You Tube? Measuring effectiveness online is evaluated a bit differently – via raving fans, more followers, more engagement by people online in a dialogue – tweak your suggested a bit – but they still result in the same result, regardless of where or how one communicates! Nice post.

    • Exactly Laurie. Thanks for making the link to online media comms. That’s interpersonal, intrapersonal and online communication we have applied these steps to so far.

  • As a manager to-be this was useful in giving me more confidence in knowing I can do the manager job I have set out to achieve. I am struggling with the term ‘manager’ and how I fit into that. I know that communication is one of my strong points, and I know I can motivate people to strive for a common goal. You pointing out that this is a key point in what a manager needs to be able to do was very helpful…I’m on the way to realising I already have many of the skills I need. Thanks!

    • Hi Zoe. Thanks for your comments. The transition from team member to manager is arguably the most challenging one. When I coach people to make this transition the first thing we address is promoting yourself in your own head. When you see yourself as a manager, others will too. When you feel comfortable and confident in that role others will be comfortable and have confidence in you. Your people skills will be far more important than your functional expertise.

  • The thing I do well is connect with most people and most audiences, using low-key humor, eye contact, presence, and being relaxed. Where I could improve is in being more succinct at times, less rambling. I also like to give others a chance to ask questions and respond (which is what you did in your blog!).
    Thanks for helping me to think about this. I have a presentation to give Friday and am important meeting to conduct.

  • Thanks for the information. I enjoyed the the metrics for determining effective communication outcome.

    • Glad you found it useful Ben. Possible metrics could include direct feedback, actions taken by the listeners, summaries provided by the listeners demonstrating their undersanding etc. What metrics are you considering or do you use?

  • Julie, I love the part about effective communication also being about having as little distortion as possible. I think that’s an under-recognized yet very important element of good communication. Clarity and unambiguity are important, yes, but the need of the communication to withstand possible distortion is critical and I think that goes to the tone of the message.

    • Thanks for picking up on the importance of this in such as short post Ed. As a coach this is what I am helping clients to do on an intra-personal level as well. Reducing the interference of limiting beliefs and negative thinking which often occupies the gap between events and our emotional and behavioural responses to the event. In communicating with others we need to consider what might be going on for the receiver of the message that could distort it for them.

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