This is allegedly a true story about communication. Engineers at a major aerospace company were instructed to test the effects of bird-strikes (notably geese) on the windshields of airliners and military jets. To simulate the effect of a goose colliding with an aircraft traveling at high speed, the test engineers built a powerful gun, with which they fired dead chickens at the windshields.
The simulations using the gun and the dead chickens worked extremely effectively! Their tests proved the durability of the windshields, and several articles were written for the industries publications.
It so happened that another test laboratory in a different part of the world was involved in assessing bird-strikes – in this case on the windshields of new high speed trains. The train test engineers had read about the innovative method developed by the aerospace team. They eagerly approached the aerospace team to ask for specifications of the gun and the testing methods. The aerospace engineers gave them details, and the train engineers set about building their own simulation.
The simulated bird-strike tests on the train windshields and cabs produced shocking results. The supposed state-of-the-art shatter-proof high speed train windshields offered little resistance to the high-speed chickens. In fact, every single windshield submitted for testing was smashed to pieces, along with a number of train cabs and much of the test booth itself.
The horrified train engineers were concerned that the new high speed trains required a safety technology that was beyond their experience. They contacted the aerospace team for advice and suggestions, sending them an extensive report of the tests and failures.
The brief reply came back from the aero-engineers: “You need to defrost the chickens….”
Communication is an integral part of everything we do. Here’s three proven ways to ensure your communication skills work for you instead of against you.
1) Be Concise
If I ask for the time, don’t tell me how to build a watch. Some people make the biggest blunder in communication – over communicating. They suffer from TMS (too many words syndrome). I just made that up. Seriously, don’t sabotage yourself by overdoing it. This applies to emails, comments during a meeting, or answering a simple question. News anchors provide a great example of brevity.
Brevity blesses your peers. I appreciate someone who can say what they mean in a concise manner. It’s like an enjoyable game of tennis. You speak, then I speak. Yea, we’ve got a rhythm! Don’t send me chasing conversational balls over the fence every time we talk. It’s not fun.
If you over-talk the situation, here’s what will happen:
- People might avoid going to you for answers. They don’t want a verbal journey when all they needed was a short Q&A.
- People might stop coming to you and go to someone else instead.
- People will get lost in the details. You may think your extensive answer is helping but it’s actually hurting the message.
Watch this sixth grader cut President Obama off for taking too long to answer his question:
2) Be Clear
It’s easier to catch a softball than a thousand grains of sand. What you have to say is important. Make sure you toss your listeners something easy to grasp. Not a ton of granular details. From public speaking to phone conversations, clarity is key. Here’s two ways to enhance your clarity.
- Use concrete language. Example: “I think our reporting process needs improvement. I’d like to schedule a meeting next Wednesday to discuss it. I’ll have two options to present during our meeting and I’d like John and Sally to be there.” That’s concrete – who, what, where, when, why. Here’s the opposite: “I wish our reporting was better. We should do something about that. I just don’t like it. I see other companies doing a much better job. Don’t you think so?” Aside from you not liking the reporting process, I’m standing by for a complaining session. Not my favorite past time.
- Use common language: Talking with someone steeped in their own legalese gets confusing. I work in the digital marketing world and meet with every kind of business executive imaginable. All of them have different terms for software they use, reports they generate, products they sell, etc. Some of them don’t realize we don’t work in the same industry. But all of us understand “reporting” or “sales” or “HR issues.” Don’t lose your listeners with niche terminology.
3) Be Compelling
To be compelling, you need character. The way you speak to me determines how well I receive it. Make sure your delivery is respectful. Great leadership always points back to character, and so does effective communication. The stronger your character, the more your words influence my thoughts.
Second, you need competency. If you want to sway the group, know what you’re talking about. Just last week a certain religious group came knocking on my front door. I opened the door and they started right in with their script. They focused their message on the original meaning of the Bible…
I stopped the lady and said, “Have you ever taken a class on Koine Greek? That’s what the New Testament was written in.” She paused and said, “Well, no I haven’t.” I said, “Then lets not address the issue of the original meaning since you don’t know the original language.” Her lack of competency ruined her chances of influencing me. (I’ve taken three semesters of Koine Greek, so I couldn’t help myself)
Last, to be compelling you need a call to action. If you want to lead, then you need to direct. Not in a pushy way, but in a clear way. Telling someone, “I’d like to have you over for dinner next week at my place” is more compelling than, “We should get together some time.” Two months may go by before that dinner gets served. Leadership means action.
Here’s an info graphic that breaks down how to communicate effectively:
To sharpen our communication skills we need practice. Which area do you think needs the most practice this week?
To practice being concise you can start with single sentence statements and answers. Look at it like an even game of tennis. The goal is not to win the game with one serve. It’s to keep the volley going.
To practice clarity use concrete language. Use examples, stories, or analogies to clear up your meaning. But watch out! Don’t allow that story to rule the conversation.
To practice being compelling, remember that how you say it is more important than what you say. Character comes first, then competency. And make sure you compel your listeners to act or decide on something. (If you want them to)