mic“That’s not what I meant when I said that!” exclaimed all of us at some point in our conversational careers.  How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you were misunderstood and had no idea how it happened? You may have been clear and concise, respectful, and even full of valuable information.  But somehow your audience interpreted your message a different way than you intended.  How dare they!

Not knowing your audience could cost you relationships, money, or even your career! Likewise, if you follow the steps below, you may increase your chances for opportunities and healthier relationships.  Always work on learning about effective communication.


1) Seek to understand their CONTEXT

Everyone you interact with has a vastly different set of personal and professional experiences than you do, which means that the way information is framed for them will be different than it is for you.  Consider contextual items such as:

  • How were they raised?
  • Who have been their influences?
  • Do they have any pre-existing cultural or gender biases?
  • What are the current personal issues?
  • What are their values?
  • Are they in a good mood or bad mood?

If you have a better understanding of where they are coming from, then you may have a better chance of getting them to go somewhere new. To help you understand this concept better, I have some excellent advice from Tracey Pitts, an executive coach who definitely helps her clients understand their own context.  She suggests this:

“Turn your attention to your own speaking and listening habits.  What are the things that you habitually speak and listen for?  It may be a strange question, but understand that when you speak and listen, you do so from your own backgrounds and experiences that are familiar to you.  For example, when you are speaking to someone, whether you know it or not, your words, body language, and even emotions are all present and give clues to your personal “context.”  This means that your audience is reading these clues and interpreting everything all at once.  The same happens when you are listening.  If you develop the skill of multi-dimensional listening – that is listening while interpreting all of these clues – then you have an opportunity for better communication.  If you start to apply multi-dimensional listening, you will be surprised and perhaps discover new meanings in old conversations!” 

Great stuff!  Tracey is an extremely talented coach and you can find her at Traceypitts.com

Try this: Think of someone in your life right now that you may need to have a discussion with about something this week.  Do you know their plans for the remainder of the year?  Maybe there are some goals they are working on, or a vacation they are planning.  If you don’t know, ask them.  You may find some context for your discussion.

Dig Deeper: Ask that same person what they value most in their relationships with others.


2) The Power of PERCEPTION

Look at the image on the right. Do you see a duck or a rabbit?  Just as we may see images differently, the same problem occurs with the spoken word.  Remember that no matter how cleverly you craft your words, there is always a chance of being misunderstood.  Body language and the image you present also play a huge role, but for now, we will focus on spoken communication.

If I were to tell you, “I need to find a home for my dog,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?  Could it be:

  • I have to find a new home for my dog with someone else
  • I am looking for a home that will allow me to keep my dog
  • I need to build my dog a good dog house
  • My dog might end up in a nursing home

In those few words, you can see that many options are possible and each one may elicit a different emotion. In your conversations, is your intended message being received?  How do people feel about what you just told them?

In order to minimize these miscommunications, you need to solicit feedback and clarify.

Try this:  Next time you request someone to do something, pause and say, “I am working on becoming a better communicator.  At this point in our conversation, I would like to make sure I have been clear.”  Please describe back to me what I am asking you to do.”  It may seem awkward, but if you preface it with your commitment to developing yourself, you can make it fun.


3) Great communicators ask the best QUESTIONS

Now that you know that context and perception are important to how your message is received, the key ingredient to finding them out is your ability to ask excellent questions.  Most people consider effective communication to be about how well they talk to others, when in fact it is how well they get others to talk.  Developing good questioning skills takes time and practice, but the better you get at it, the more precise and relevant your conversations will become.  If you want to have your messages received and interpreted better, spend some time getting to know your audience and uncovering the framework that you can build your conversation around.  And the deeper your level of questioning goes, the more pinpoint accurate your conversation can become.

The trick is that in order to dig deeper with questions, get better at asking good ones in the first place, so your audience will give you the permission to go deeper.

In sales for example, you can ask a potential customer what issues they are facing right now.  Once you have some more information, you can dig deeper by asking them some of the factors that are causing those issues.  If you have them talking at this point, you are doing well.  Pick one of the specific issues they mentioned and ask them what happens if they don’t resolve it.  And what might happen to them personally if they don’t resolve it.

By questioning in this way in sales, you can see that you have now uncovered a need and can more appropriately describe how your products or services can benefit them.  Learn more about asking question on my post about SPIN Selling.

The same questioning skills can be applied to your relationships.  Think about all of the times people give you clues about their side of things.  Take the time and ask better questions and as Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you want to go more into listening and questioning, read my post 5.1 Steps to Listen Your Way Into Better Relationships – and More Sales Too!

Try this: In your next meeting with someone, find out three non-business things about them.  Then also see if you can uncover their top three concerns.

Practice questioning to uncover context, and clarify you are delivering the right perceived message and you will have much more success in every interaction. And a great book to help you with some of these nuances is:


How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes– an aweome read with 92 small tips and tricks about human relationships

Image by Esparta

Joe Girard
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    2 replies to "Successful Communicators Know Their Audience"

    • […] you the highest return rate.  And then connect them with an email message you will send as well.  Seek to understand your customers and gain insights about your audience.  When you start seeing patterns emerge through your testing, you can begin to build best […]

    • […] that, empathize with them, and put yourself in their shoes.  When you start to see things from the eyes of your audience, you can get instant clarity on who YOU need to be.  Set intentions for how you want to make […]

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