Be Better Than Buzzwords: 3 Traps To Effective Communication
October 13, 2016 12:00 AM EST | 7 min read
It’s easy to be seduced by catch phrases.
After all, they’re catchy.
The trouble is when you blindly believe and repeat the incorrect, the fundamentally flawed, and straight up ridiculous.
This is when you lose credibility.
In a world where actual answers are but a web click away, it’s important to fact check your statements.
Doing so will not only safeguard your reputation, it will also help you demonstrate value – a critical skill whether you’re looking for a new job or climbing the corporate ladder.
To ensure you are as accurate with your words as finance professionals are with their data, avoid the following traps to effective communication.
Avoid These 3 Traps To Effective Communication
1. Sloppy Statistics
A common misstep is parroting unchecked figures.
For example: I’m sure most of us have heard a colleague confidently assert that 92 percent (or was that 87 percent?) of communication is non-verbal.
Either way, it’s a compelling factoid that makes for interesting conversation.
However if the statement were correct, telephones would be useless.
What the research intends to show is the accuracy and believability of the non-verbal when there is incongruence between those cues and what is actually said.
So if you ask a colleague, “How are you doing?”
and the person responds, “great, fabulous, or living the dream,” but does so with slumped shoulders, no eye contact and a drooping head, there is a higher likelihood that the body language is telling the truth.
Of course, that explanation doesn’t fit on a slide.
So some would have us believe that the secret to effective communication is a quick game of charades.
At a recent HR conference, a presenter confidently told a room full of seasoned practitioners that 70 percent of change efforts fail – as if the statement were some grand insight that explained away the shortcomings of project sponsors.
The only eye-opening element of the message was that it’s still being used.
Consultants have been kicking around the concept for over two decades; and while perhaps once directionally correct, again we miss the point.
70 percent of change efforts don’t fail.
Many change efforts are never accurately measured in the first place – so project owners have no clue as to the meaning of failure or the degree of their success.
A small but important distinction as the latter is easily fixed.
My favorite is the 70-20-10 model of learning that many leaders evangelize.
Countless organizations have reframed their development offerings based on a study that is often misquoted and rarely understood.
Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership conducted the original research in the 1980s.
The study, which included only 191 successful senior executives (189 men and 2 women in six North American based companies), asked the question:
When you look back on your career, which “key events” made a lasting change to the way you manage?
Many would have you believe the results indicated the now familiar mantra: 70 percent from on-the-job experiences, 20 percent from others, and 10 percent from formal courses.
But that’s not quite right.
You see, embedded in this data were 17.4 percent of respondents who reported learning via hardships – the personal and professional trials and setbacks one accumulates over a lifetime.
While no one would purposefully build such experiences into a development plan, the point about learning from one’s mistakes and life lessons should NOT be overlooked.
Another aspect of the research that gets muddled is the gray area between categories.
Many times, teachers are the catalyst for on the job learning as well as the other person reported in the 20 percent category.
The most damaging portion however, is the blanket applicability afforded to the research.
Maybe what was reviewed for senior executives looking back on the whole of their careers for indications of changes to their management style is applicable to all learning – including technical content.
But I doubt it.
Understanding the story behind the numbers – any number – is critical to effective communication.
2. Tired Platitudes and New Fads
Sometimes people attempt to support sloppy statistics with faulty assertions and tired sound bites.
For example: when discussing change, many attempt to explain away the alleged failure rate by noting simply that most people fear change of events.
But WHO are these most people, WHICH changes do they fear, and is ALL fear created equally?
A truer statement perhaps, is that people don’t fear change, they actively resist those changes they don’t understand, fundamentally disagree with, or envision coming out the other end, having lost something significant.
But that analysis takes time.
A commodity few of us have in abundance, so the discussion is truncated or avoided altogether.
Instead, we are told that the cycle of change and associated employee response is directly aligned to the cycle of grief.
But does that stack up against real world experience?
After all, people actively seek and embrace change all their lives.
Examples are abound: learning to drive, going to college, starting a new job or project, getting married, having kids, changing cities, landing a promotion, etc.
So is the assumption that people only fear hardship related change?
If so, that’s encouraging and more easily addressed.
Clearly, the topic deserves more than a dusty number and an untested rationale.
New statements are just as damaging.
Catchy titles and corporate clichés would have us all lead from the front, for example.
It sounds compelling, a militaristic analogy that would place corporate generals on the front lines with their troops, bravely leading the charge against the competition.
The visual might be helpful for leader egos and employee moral, but does anyone stop to ask, who minds the strategy when leaders jump to the weeds?
3. The Jargon Trap
If I hear one more job applicant try to manufacture a connection by discussing the “big picture impact of reducing silos in an effort to enhance departmental synergy and create more bandwidth so we can better leverage our customer-focused client portfolio”,
I may have to “take the conversation off-line and empower myself to proactively leverage some psychological resources before the force fed paradigm shift lands me in the loony bin”.
There’s nothing wrong with channeling your inner Alex P. Keaton.
Just make sure that you have SOMETHING meaningful to say.
Seasoned professionals understand the importance of clarity and brevity of effective communication.
If you’re looking for the proverbial win-win, resist the temptation to string together buzzwords and instead focus on facilitating meaningful dialogue.
There is a difference between talk leadership and thought leadership.
The first attempts to prove importance, status and personal relevancy by verbally water-boarding participants into submission.
The latter seeks to deliver insights so compelling that others can’t help but see value in the exchange.
Developing an ability to actively listenand thoughtfully respond is more valuable than any corporate speak.
It can help get you hired or rally commitment for your projects.
Effective Communication: Make Your Words Count
With people everywhere constantly buried in their smartphones, it’s rare to have an actual audience.
Whether you’re addressing a room full of people or engaging a single conversation partner, it’s important to make the most of those moments.
Get it right and you can become the ambassador of change, a broker of best practice, and the catalyst for coachable moments that spark insights in yourself and others.
And until someone invents an app for that, to me, making your words count seems like a worthy pursuit.