Leadership Perspectives

To communicate better, rewrite your conversations

April 16, 2013

Woman Writing on Pad of PaperHave you ever had a conversation and then wished you could have a do-over?  Perhaps you struggled to succinctly express your point, observed that your words did not have the impact that you intended, or left a conversation feeling dissatisfied?

This happens to leaders all the time.  Many leaders who are extroverts find out what they are thinking when it comes out of their mouths.  Introverted leaders may have the opposite problem when, if they haven’t had time to think, nothing much wants to come out of their mouths!  Either way, the moment is lost.

That moment may be lost, but you can use these less than satisfactory communication experiences to better prepare yourself for the future.

Jot down your conversations from memory as soon as possible.  Alternatively, if you want to be very intentional and open about developing your communication skills, do as one of my clients has done.  She wants to be much more succinct and direct in her communication so she records some of her conversations, with permission of course, so that she can recall them better.

As you recall (or replay) your conversation, ask yourself what impact you believe your conversation had and how well you accomplished your original objective.

If your impact was positive and your original objective was met, congratulations!  Take a minute to note how your thoughts or feelings going into the conversation impacted your message.   Write down what you did and what the direct result was.  Another client, who wanted to be more open-minded during his conversations, noted that when, prior to potentially contentious team meetings, he adopted a position of curiosity rather than one of advocacy, his entire communication style changed and his results became more positive.  He started noting what was going right and worked to replicate his results.  Pretty soon his boss, peers, and reports all noticed and commented on the positive change.

If your results were not positive, reflect on how you could have communicated better.  First, examine your attitude going into the conversation and decide if that served you.  Then, look at what you said and decide if there were better ways to say it.  If you are trying to be more succinct, see if you can write your intended message more concisely.  If you are trying to be more constructive, look for ways that you could have delivered your message more positively.  If you are trying to be more open, look for the points in the conversation when you charged ahead without really understanding the other person’s point of view.

Write your part of the conversation the way you would have liked to have delivered it.  Writing reinforces learning.  As you write down what you would have liked to have said, you are strengthening positive patterns of communication.  Do this regularly and you’ll find yourself instinctively using your new communication patterns in your live communication.

The point here isn’t to beat one’s self up about what one should have or could have said. Rather the point is to figure out exactly how you want to improve and then reinforce new ways of communicating until they become second nature and you are getting the results that you want from your communication efforts.

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