We have all heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” And the truth is both are equally important. Yet, there’s another question that many ignore, and that’s the why behind the comments we make — not to mention the when, where, and to whom.
The fact is everyone knows someone who loves to hear themselves talk or really only listens to find a break in the conversation so they can start talking (again in many cases) and tell their story. It happens in our personal and professional lives, over drinks, on a conference call, and especially in those infamous “who called this meeting anyway” corporate brain drains.
But—and that’s an intentional use of the word—here’s the thing. Aren’t we all a little guilty of being THAT person sometimes? Maybe we just don’t realize it because it’s not something we do every day. Or maybe we don’t do it verbally, but we do it when we write emails or communicate with our customers or create marketing collateral. Imagine how much more valuable and respected we’d become if we just slowed down and gave our words—and our actions—a bit more thought.
Always Listen, Then Talk and Listen Again
Leadership, Marketing, Sales, and Career 101 typically begins with the advice to “Listen more than you talk.” Although I totally agree, listening alone won’t get you to the relevance we all should seek when engaging with others.
When it’s time to take the lead in a conversation or “weigh in” as we say in Corporate America, don’t just lean in and listen. Breathe and reflect on what’s happening and what’s being said. Take the moment to consider not only what it is you’re about to say, but again:
- How you’re going to say it
- Why you’re going to say it
- Where, when and whom you’re going to say it to
You also need to decide if you’re being a windbag or if what you’re saying worthy. Next time you’re in a meeting with a customer, a prospect, a partner, or peer and are about to open your mouth or multi-task using your device, ask yourself these Qs:
- Is what I am about to say different than what’s been said?
- Will it add value to the conversation?
- Is it going to help us make the business case or sway the vote?
- Or (and be honest) am I just taking my turn at the table or putting it out there because I want to?
Be warned—that last one will get you in trouble personally and professionally if you let it.
Don’t Agree With or Be Like Everyone Else
Another piece of advice: When it comes time to talk or write for that matter, don’t sell yourself (or your company) short by agreeing with the last statement or playing off what someone else said or did. Own your words. Make them count.
By leading off your statement with “I agree with Jane,” or even worse “To Jane’s point …” you’ve inadvertently made whatever you say next less important. (Side note: Using the word “but” does the same thing and more. Unless you’re using it with intent, try to replace “but” with “and” where you can.)
This ‘group shared think’ runs rampant in Corporate America and plays out in panels (and debates) where a line of power players will sit on stage and agree with one another on all the great points they are making. The audience and viewers walk away with nothing. And the reporters do too, so they start making up things to write about … oh wait, that’s a PR person’s job. The point is no one wins, except maybe whoever said the same thing everyone else said but a little better. #SoundBite
Don’t be paranoid, and don’t be passive about it either. Stand up and stand out by choosing your words carefully so that no one questions why you’re saying what you saying and everyone —or at least those you care about—see the value in what’s being said, written, or marketed for that matter.