On a recent vacation to Italy, we stayed on the Amalfi Coast in Positano and wanted to take a day trip to the town of Amalfi. When we asked the travel office for the best way to get to Amalfi, the agent recommended we take the public bus.
Unfortunately, the bus was overcrowded, and with our 2-year old son, the one-hour start-and-stop ride through windy, bumpy roads was an unpleasant one. Later in Amalfi, we learned from another family we met that there was actually a high-speed ferry from Positano to Amalfi that took only 20 minutes with plenty of seating.
Naturally, I wanted to blame the travel office for misguiding us, but when I thought more about it, it was really just a case of miscommunication. The travel agent defined the “best” way as the cheapest way while still providing a scenic experience. We defined the “best” way as the fastest and most comfortable way to get to where we wanted to go.
Scenarios like this one happen all the time as business professionals from around the world work with their clients or collaborate with their teams. In other articles on working more effectively across cultures, I emphasized the importance to stay curious when your global colleagues act in ways that don’t seem to make sense and to confirm what you’ve heard especially when you and those you work with speak the same language.
We focus on leading with listening because this behavior will open the other person to your point of view. Despite their willingness to hear your ideas, you still need to communicate your message, perspective, or recommendation effectively. Strong communicators take responsibility to get their point across: If the other person does not understand you, it reflects your inability to communicate rather than his or her inability to comprehend.
Here are a few tips to ensure others hear what you hear:
1. Understand the impact of your non-verbal communication.
Before you utter a word, you’re already communicating non-verbally. If you’re not paying attention, your body language may undermine your verbal message. Your goal is for your non-verbal and verbal messages to be consistent.
To ensure others don’t discount your words because of your body language:
- Project openness and confidence by making strong eye contact and keeping your arms and hands apart as opposed to closed.
- Adopt a strong yet relaxed posture.
- Match your facial expression and vocal energy to your message.
You goal is to appear natural and comfortable. Smiling, gesturing naturally, and speaking in a conversational tone helps to put others at ease.
2. Lead with your main message.
Don’t leave your key point until the end. We fall into this trap because it mirrors the way we think. We collect information, we analyze it, and then we give our conclusion.
If you leave your main point until the end, there is a good chance the other person will become frustrated and wonder throughout your conversation, “Why are you telling me this?”
To avoid this trap, put your main message upfront—it frames and gives meaning to the other information you plan to share. Just ensure that your main message is relevant to the other person.
3. Stay concise.
Everyone is busy and tasked with accomplishing more with fewer resources. If you want others to pay attention to what you’re saying, get to your point as quickly as possible. Think of what you want to say and just say it.
A practical way to stay concise is to give yourself a two-sentence limit for each point. If you’re going beyond two sentences, you’re probably saying too much.
Remember that it’s your responsibility to ensure the other person receives your intended message. This is not easy, especially when you layer on different cultural norms and communication styles. To measure your effectiveness, observe the response that you get. If it’s not what you expect or want, take responsibility and proactively change up the way you communicate.
Instead of leaving it up to the travel agent to figure out what we wanted, we should have been clearer by asking, “What’s the fastest way to Amalfi if we’re traveling with a 2-year old and want to be comfortable?”
Robert Chen is an executive coach who uses his science, business, and cross-cultural background to help technical leaders communicate with more impact and build better working relationships. He has worked with high-performing leaders in management consulting, banking and financial services, accounting and professional services, and academia. He works at Exec|Comm, a global communication skills consultancy, in the New York office.