Are you muddling the message?

Are you muddling the message?

In this video, I talk about the complications of communication. It is easy to misspeak and misinterpret a person in a conversation, especially when someone says something in a way that makes the meaning ambiguous. How can you make your message clear and appropriate for the situation at hand?

Transcript Highlights:

Diane:
Hi, everyone. I am Diane Macedo. Welcome back to FoxNews.com Live. We are doing the business hour now, but we were talking about Valentine’s Day a little earlier. It seems only fitting that now we should talk about clumsy communication. Here to brief us on that, Peter Bregman’s here, FoxBusiness.com Contributor and CEO Advisor. Peter, we love having you on. One of your big messages is don’t let the package distract from the message. What do you mean by that?

Peter:
I think it’s really hard to get our point across these days in a clear, succinct, strong way, because, for the most part, you’re talking about things that are often important, that are often emotional, that have some element of self-interest or other interest involved. It’s rare that you’re in a conversation where you’re just transacting data.

We also work with each other in various cultures. We come from different places, socioeconomic classes, geographic areas. It’s very easy to misinterpret or misspeak in a way that the other person ends up confused.

When I say don’t let the package distract you from the message, usually there’s something important to hear in what someone’s saying, but the way they say it makes it much harder to hear it.

Diane:
How do you get it out of them if they are not voicing what they mean in a way that you can understand? How do you become a mind-reader or a translator?

Peter:
It’s hard. The first thing that I suggest that people do is notice your reaction. If you feel triggered, if you have an emotional response to something someone’s saying, take a deep breath. Just notice, first of all, “I have this emotional response.” Pause for a second, and recognize that probably some of your reaction is about you and some of it is about them.

Then, I would say, interpret what it is that they’re saying. Think of yourself not just as a speaker in a conversation but an interpreter. If someone were speaking a completely different language to you, you would need someone in between explaining, “Here’s what he really said.”

Diane:
What if I don’t speak the language?

Peter:
Yes. It can be hard, but if you focus . . . . You can realize, “Okay, they’re yelling, and they’re screaming. They’re upset about something. I’m understanding through all of this that they feel like maybe I stepped on their toes.”

Diane:
Can you do this with someone that you don’t know that well? How do you do that with a stranger?

Peter:
One of the things you can do is ask questions. Assuming that all communication has some element of clumsiness to it, you could say, “Okay, I see that you’re really angry about something. I want to make sure that I understand exactly what you’re saying.” Then begin to repeat back what you heard, “This is what I think I hear you saying. Am I understanding that correctly?”

When you have that conversation, you will noticeably begin to see them change and slow down. If you’re confronting that issue of “I don’t feel like I’m understood,” slow it down a little bit and ask a bunch of questions so that you really understand what’s going on . . . . Unwrap the package so that you can get to the message.

Diane:
Once you go into the interpret phase, then how important is your response? How do you tailor your response? Can you respond in your own language, or do you then have to try to figure out how to speak their language?

Peter: The best communicators will speak their language. If I’m a great communicator, what I’ll do is understand the language that you’re speaking, and I’ll speak it, but not necessarily with the same emotion. For example, if the package I received the message in was screaming, and yelling, and angry, my response probably would be better off not to be screaming, and yelling, and angry. I would be better off if I responded in a way that you could open the other person to a real conversation.

The best communicators speak in a way that the person who’s listening can accept and absorb the information. I think if we can translate what we say into a language that the other person can hear, that would be successful. That’s the best communication.

There’s another element, by the way, to this package and message, which is, there are right ways and wrong ways to send messages. If someone sends you an email that’s an angry email, maybe you don’t respond in an email. Maybe you pick up the phone, or you walk over to their office, or you do something that changes the dynamic. Because that package didn’t work for you, try a different package. Try a different mode of communication that could be more helpful.

Diane:
For some people, writing is actually easier. They get to put their thoughts down. They like to think them through. You talk to some people, and they have a really hard time vocalizing how they feel. But give them a few minutes in front of a computer, and they can summarize their points very well.

Peter:
Absolutely.

Diane:
I would think in some cases, an email might work better than having a face-to-face conversation for some people.

Peter:
I’ll give you another option, because I think you’re right. I have a friend who had a very difficult meeting she was planning for. She’s the person who is better at writing, so she wrote out everything that she needed to say. She took the time. Then she went to the meeting, and she said, “I know this is weird, but I think better this way. If it’s okay with you, can I just read you what I wrote?

Diane:
I like that.

Peter:
It was great. It worked perfectly for that relationship.

Diane:
Now it totally doesn’t get misinterpreted . . . .

Peter:
Exactly. She’s chosen her words carefully, and she’s still there in person. I thought that was a great example of someone who thinks carefully about how she’s going to communicate, and then pursues it, even if it seems a little weird.

Diane:
All right. Peter Bregman, you heard it. Thanks so much, Peter. It was great to talk to you.

Peter:
Great to talk to you, too.


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  • Sue Pridgen March 12, 2014 Reply

    Hi Peter,
    Call this a comment / question. When speaking to someone about something to do with work. Especially work. (As I recall that is). That’s the one place you have to learn to control those emotions in a conversation. When the one you are speaking with is angry and you are trying to calm the situation down and find out if there has been a misunderstanding of terms dealing with the issue.
    However, being human. It is hard when someone takes on that angry attack attitude before giving you the chance to explain. Or let them ask the questions. It is very easy to take on the same attitude that is being thrown at you. (simple minded example:My mother used to say that the first person she would meet in then morning going into work. As she passed by and said good morning, if they didn’t answer or spoke in an ill tone. Sometimes that set her attitude for the rest of the day).
    I tried to not to. But when I first started in the area that put me in the position of presenting myself and or my work. I used to take on the attitude that was coming at me. Be it anger I would get angry. Not that the issue wouldn’t be resolved. Just a lot of energy was spent getting to that point. The same point that as I learned later was staying calm usually not only got the job done faster but made the other person more frustrated for getting that upset in the first place. But it did take a lot of practice. This is one of the subjects that causes someone to react.

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