It was one of those conversations you couldn't ignore, not only because it was very public (in the middle of a shopping mall), and very loud (at least on the side of the person who was yelling) but also because the small culprit who was standing looking very downcast and miserable had a number of giggling co-conspirators standing behind him.
" You must not do that! This sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable, and will not be tolerated. If I catch you doing that again there will be significant consequences. Is that clear?"
From where I was standing, safe from the spray, it was very clear that whatever the small boy had done, it wasn't on, and his Mum wasn't going to let him get away with it again. He knew it from her tone, facial expression and choice of words.
But why do we only check in on the clarity of our message when we are angry or cross? Isn't it important to be clear in how we communicate everything?
Clarity of message is vital for a number of reasons including:
Without clarity we can end up in the situation where the person either kinda half gets the message, or misinterprets it or simply ignores it.
Maybe you've found yourself in that uncomfortable position where you're engaged in a conversation, which has turned into a monologue and the other person has failed to pick up your lack of interest in the mathematical probabilities of the Brazillian three toed tree frog giving birth to a four toed variety?
Tree frogs or maths, if the message isn’t clear, seems irrelevant or is just plain boring, we switch off while pretending to listen, nodding (hopefully at the right interjectures where a nod is required), while mentally rehearsing how to escape without causing offence.
Clear communication doesn't have to be hard if we make it easy for both sides to ensure that the message being shared is heard and understood.
It matters because it affects performance. When we have clarity around what is expected of us in our role or task, and we know we have the capacity to execute what is required, and the understanding of the expected outcomes, we become more motivated to get on the job and do it well.
So how do we get better at being effective communicators?
Choose your words carefully.
It's important to match our vocabulary to our audience. Jargon heavy language is often incomprehensible outside the network familiar with it. Academispeak is OK when conversing with academics but not if you are conversing in a business setting.
It's almost impossible to hide incongruence.
That intuitive feeling that something isn't quite right is often the incongruence you have sensed at a subconscious level.
If a manager doesn't tune in to read what either isn't being said or doesn't match the language, alarm bells should be ringing - loudly.
Just because someone tells you they are 'fine' doesn't mean they are. An employee may be struggling with worries at home or their work but may not want to admit it to their boss.
Cut the fluff.
Verbosity is boring and can hide what the message is really about. If the conversation is about a person's poor performance, adding in a lot of 'stuff' to hide our discomfort about having a difficult conversation doesn't help anyone.
If a person's job is on the line, they need to understand that, rather than just being told that times are tough and the company is looking for ways to cut costs.
Keep it relevant.
If you're looking for buy-in, the message has to be about the person and what's in it for them. You may have the greatest vision and mission on the planet, but if it has no relevance to who you are sharing it with, the ears have already switched off.
It's been said that the best leaders ask questions, speak less and listen more. Active listening is the skill of fully engaging with another. By tuning in to that person not only do you pick up more of the verbal cues you hear more of what is being spoken as the temptation to jump in with your own rehearsed reply isn't getting in the way.
Our performance is shaped by the clarity of the messages we receive and share with others.
Are you clear about that?