Sunday 15 September 2019

Gina London: 'How unintentional actions can spark tragic results'

'For your next communication event, imagine the top three questions you may encounter.' (stock photo)
'For your next communication event, imagine the top three questions you may encounter.' (stock photo)

Gina London

Eight hundred years of Easter worship have come to a halt inside Notre Dame by a blaze was probably ignited by 'accident'.

No doubt you've uttered something without thinking. You carelessly tossed a verbal match into a personal or professional tinderbox. While the consequences of one's spoken mistakes likely don't rise to the level of damaging a historic cathedral, unintentional actions can spark tragic results.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've rolled out mini-lessons from the book I am drafting, Relearning your ABC's, Appearance, Behaviour and Communications, I've explored how to take more control over your 'A' and your 'B', and now, in the wake of the accident in France, I'm going to share a few of the most flagrant unintentional 'C'ommunication offences.

1 The Glib, Slick-talker

Years ago, when I was a burgeoning TV news writer, I overheard the executive producer comment about my writing style saying, "She's glib at the sake of accuracy." Ouch. Now, of course, this description was applied to my writing style - which I promise I continue to strive to overcome, (let me know when I backslide), but it also applies to a form of spoken communication.

Glibness is defined as 'being confident but overly simplistic' and - here's the kicker - 'lacking in careful thought'. If you're shooting from the hip, you're likely not carefully considering the complexity of an issue or the other people in the room. That can lead you to hopefully unintentionally - but still damagingly - step on toes.

2 The Sarcastic Wise-cracker

Another hurtful form of communications if not used carefully and with proper discretion is sarcasm and wise-cracks. You may have developed a razor-sharp silver tongue, but this style can be extremely off-putting in the workplace.

3 The Gossip Girl

Naturally this doesn't just apply to girls. This offence applies to any gender identification. In fact, if we're human, we've engaged in gossip at some point. Yuval Harari, in his New York Times bestselling book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, argues we are hard-wired to gossip since it's the foundation of our survival as a species.

He writes: "Long hours spent gossiping helped the early humans to forge friendships and hierarchies, which, in turn, helped to establish the social order and co-operation that eventually set them apart from the rest of the animal kingdom." (I highly recommend the book. It's an eye-opening way to look at the history of our traditions, our myths and ourselves.) But, since we are (hopefully) past the formative days of our species, we can take responsibility over about whom we gossip, where and when and to what degree. If we do not, it will scorch our own reputation even more than it may burn our intended targets.

4 The Interrupt-hey, let me tell you about me -er

I confess, I struggle with this. As a former TV journalist, I've been trained in interview situations not to 'step' on someone else's words. It ruins the soundbite. But in everyday conversations, I still too often hear myself finish someone's sentence, or chime in on their thought or idea before they've completed their story.

Interrupting someone doesn't add to a collaboration or conversation, it diminishes the event. I may think I'm trying to show that I 'get' the other person, but in fact, I'm not demonstrating that I truly value the other person's contribution. If you're an interrupter, as I am, I hope you'll fess up and recommit to slowing down and listening more fully.

Now, before you're depressed, here's how to combat unintentional communications.

Take five minutes to prepare

One of my clients this past week lamented how she handled a question from a boss during an audio conference. The boss asked how confident she was that the department would meet its projections. My client stumbled on the answer. As she related it back to me, she readily acknowledged she meandered, waffled and generally fizzled her response. She'd felt the boss wanted 100pc certainty and she wasn't able to provide that.

"But," I pressed, "Had you prepared an answer beforehand?" "No," she replied. "I set time in my diary to prepare the spread sheet of numbers, but I didn't prepare for what I would say to support those numbers during the call."

"But you knew that this would be his number one question, right?" I asked.

"Yes," was the admission. "Ah-ha," came my coaching moment. "If you had prepared an answer - even if you couldn't promise complete certainty - you could have given the confidence and reassurance about your team's abilities to perform that would have satisfied the boss." "You're so right," my client agreed.

For your next communication event, imagine the top three questions you may encounter. Write down positive answers and practice saying them out loud. This is exercising your mouth and brain. It makes the difference.

Concentrate during any conversation

Concentrate on the moment as it is happening. Train your brain to think about what the other person is thinking. Build in preparation time before a phone call. The phrase, "Open mouth, insert foot" is a cliché for a reason. The more we deliberately maintain focus on what is coming out of our mouth, the more we decrease the likelihood of putting our foot into it.

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