How to Talk So People Listen – and You Get the Outcomes You Want

Oct 29, 2015
5 Min Read

Ever feel like you’re not being heard in meetings, or that your boss never sees things your way? It might be the way you’re talking; the way you present your thoughts can have a huge impact on how much weight people give what you’re saying. In fact, fairly or not, the way you talk can sometimes carry more weight than the substance of what you’re saying.

Here are four keys for talking in a way that will increase the odds that you’re really heard.

1. Start with the upshot. Not doing this is probably the #1 way to lose people’s attention, especially if you’re talking to a busy executive. You might think that starting with the background details will help make your ultimate point clearer, but the person you’re talking to may not want to listen to 10 minutes of background before discovering what your point is. Instead, start with the upshot – in other words, the specific request that you’re making or the key piece of information you need to impart – and then fill in details only if they’re needed. Communicating this way means that the person you’re talking with will probably be better positioned to process the details (since they’ll know why they matter), and they’ll be more willing to make time to listen to you in the future (since they’ll know you’ll communicate concisely and treat their time respectfully).

2. Be clear about any action you’re suggesting. Clearly state what outcome you’re looking for, such as input or approval for something, so that the person is clear on what they should be considering. And if you’re just filling the person in on something you think they should be aware of, say that too. Most people find it really helpful to hear “this is just an FYI for you right now” at the start of a conversation rather than waiting through the whole discussion to hear what they might be asked to do.

3. Pay attention to conversational cues. Part of communicating is observing your audience. If the person you’re talking to seems rushed or distracted, that’s a cue for you to get to the point quickly (or possibly even to ask, “Is this a bad time to talk about this?”). If the person seems lost or confused, pause and ask what you can clarify (“I’m not sure I’m conveying this correctly – is this making sense?”).  Generally, pay attention to the signals the other person is giving off; in most cases, they’re there if you look for them.

4. Seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Sometimes if you feel you’re not being heard, it’s because you’re not hearing the other person. For example, if you’re pushing hard to launch a new initiative and your manager is telling you that the budget is tight right now, you’re going to come across as tone-deaf if you don’t heed that information and at least incorporate it into your thinking. Other times, the person might not be as forthcoming with their perspective and you may need to seek it out. If you’re sensing resistance, don’t keep charging ahead; pause and ask questions to try to better understand what’s going on with your audience. You’ll often get insight that will change your own thinking, or at least allow you to approach the issue more persuasively.

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