A few days ago, someone shared a video of a girl who had physically barricaded the sidewalk on a busy Bangalore road to take a stand against two-wheelers riding the footpath.
“You and I have both been in schools teaching us what a red light is for, what a footpath is for,” said Manju Thomas, who has been protesting against footpath riders for a while. “And if you still don’t know, my sir, I’m telling you. This is wrong,” she continued.
“I’m not here to listen to your lecture,” was the rude response from the offender who tried to score sympathy on regionalism accusing her of being an outsider.
“You don’t have to listen to me. And I’m not here to give a lecture. I will stand here. I will wait for you to use the road like a good citizen,” asserted Thomas.
“How many vehicles will you stop here? You have come here to create a scene. If we do not follow what you say, what will you do?” threatened the miscreant.
“We have the right to stand here until you take the right way,” chimed in a passerby who was now taking a stand with Manju.
It was brave of her to do this as a lone fighter, though it has been a nuisance for many pedestrians. What particularly stayed with me was how concise she was in her communication to the wrongdoers. She wasn’t yelling at them, she wasn’t being abusive, rather, she was calm and composed, even when she was being belittled, termed a media monger. With her stand, she got through to not only the miscreants but also received support from others who had this far just been bystanders.
The courage it took to take that stand, the clarity of the girl’s thought process and how effectively she communicated the gravity of the situation, not only to the wrongdoers but fellow pedestrians, was thought-provoking. This could have turned into a violent and hostile situation, but her effective communication strategy ensured the situation didn’t turn ugly.
Effective communication rarely comes instinctively, though it should. Communication is a big part of our existence, but how often do we get through to the people we communicate with? Do we spend time thinking about how we communicate?
Communication isn’t just verbal, but also written, through body language, through expressions. If you break it down here’s what can be construed as an effective way to communicate:
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Impact of Emotions in your Words:
This is the obvious and a given, right? Choosing the right words to express yourself is very important. When we are verbose in our communication, sometimes even completely miss the point we were trying to make.
Often, our emotions get translated as words and we do not communicate what really is bothering us.
A few years ago, Shruti, a friend of mine was shortlisted as one of three people to represent the company at a prestigious event. Shruti was excited about being recognized and had worked really hard for the event. But a few weeks before the event, her boss told her that they had budget constraints he had to cut her travel. She was heart-broken and furious and decided to let her boss know. But rather than writing a hateful e-mail, Shruti created a list of reasons why she should be the one to travel to the event. She spent some time putting the email together, keeping it to the point.
So effective was the positivity on the e-mail, that Shruti’s boss made an exception and it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime for her.
I can Understand you by Looking at Your Body Language
Words are important, but how many conversations have happened without even the use of words. Ask anyone who’s fallen in love at the first sight. This may sound farfetched, but you can tell a lot about a person from their body language. There’s even a branch of behavioral science dedicated to the study of body language and facial expressions.
How a child avoids eye contact when they know they have broken something or how your colleague gets fidgety before a proposal review. Arms folded during an argument can suggest the person is not open to communication, whereas maintaining a good eye contact can instill faith in the person you are talking to.
Do you Know How Your Tone Impacts Others?
What gives soul to communicating is the tone of voice. The tone of voice is not about what you say, but rather the way that you say it. And the impression it makes on anyone who receives (reads or hears) you. This is 80% of what changes the conversation from combustible to open (or vice versa).
I was at the beach with my friends and their five-year-old daughter last summer. While they happily splashed around in the water, I was at the shore waiting for them. After waiting a while, I was irate about how a few minutes had stretched to hours and decided to leave and shouted out to them over the waves that I was ready to leave. They wanted to stay in longer, so I decided to leave.
When they got back to the hotel room, the five-year munchkin, came up to me with a very angry face and asked me demandingly as to why was I screaming at her mother at the beach. Even at her age, she had grasped the annoyance in my voice which her parents had missed. Which I had unknowingly communicated. I tried to convince her that I was not screaming at her mother, but rather was trying to communicate over a very noisy background. She accepted my justification as an apology over a big ice-cream sundae (of course!) but her keen sense of listening and astute observation left me thinking about how often do we listen.
Listen Well to Engage your Audience
Listening shouldn’t be a surprise on the list for effective communication. But we often forget that communication is not only about talking, but also about listening. We all have this inherent need to be heard, a need to be understood. We listen with an intent to respond, rather than with an intent to understand what is being said.
I was at a company event last year where the CEO was speaking. He was there in time for his keynote, but the audience was still trickling in. His time was valuable, but rather than being angry, he patiently waited for people to come and settle in. He took that time to walk the aisle and meet the employees. Not just with senior leaders in the team, but everyone he could possibly meet in that duration. He engaged the audience by listening to them, making it a personalized experience
Engaging your audience is crucial to communication. Engaged speaking is as important as engaged listening. It translates to keeping the audience’s attention. The CEO made sure the room was engaged and received a roaring response from the audience who felt heard and noticed. He had built a rapport with the people in the audience and had their trust.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to communicate effectively, but it is a start. The ability to communicate effectively is an essential skill. How we communicate, the words we choose, the willingness to listen and much more can help create a positive (or negative) environment around you. So, choose wisely.