I really like it when insight strikes both me and my client at the same time. It happened recently:
It’s no secret that we are experiencing major disruptions in our lives right now. My work focuses on goals and objectives, the strategies needed to accomplish them, and the skills required to execute those strategies successfully. Now there is the additional focus of working remotely and the increase in our social awareness regarding issues of diversity and equity.
Recent conversations with clients (especially white men) often center on the skill of slowing down communication so the client can think before speaking. The goal is to stop them from saying something that later will land poorly and come back to haunt them. Especially today, when we live in a YouTube-Twitterverse and information really does travel faster than the speed of sound.
There is a need now to slow the entire communication process down and take the time to consider what the goal is of the communication, how they usually communicate it (quickly and without much thought), and if there is a better way to communicate. And I know that it can be frustrating (for some downright annoying) to have to think about examining and changing something that you do so efficiently – like talking.
But there are lots of reasons to stop and think carefully before you talk.
Words have power. People can be pretty careless with the words they choose. Phrases and words that make communication fast can inflame the emotions of others. Not everyone hears things the same way and even when the intention is honorable, the impact often is a bad one. Once spoken, you can’t take the words back.
Words define who you are and are not. Some words can reveal that you are insensitive to gender, age, race, disability, or cultural background. Even if they are terms you have used for years, examination given today’s climate is required. Not doing so can make someone look unknowledgeable about the issues of others.
Words can help AND hurt. Management sets the workplace tone and has a responsibility to show employees what is and isn’t acceptable. They remind others by both modeling and providing timely feedback on what is suitable when communicating.
Word choices reveal ignorance and intelligence. If you haven’t been paying attention to any of the news this year or did not pass history or science classes in school, you could be forgiven for not understanding how we got here. But that may not be the case.
The truth of who you are is revealed by your communication. As soon as the words are out of your mouth, they won’t go back – no matter how many times you apologize. Things don’t ‘change backward,’ and it is highly unlikely that we will go back in time to any one’s idea of the ‘good old days.’
One client told me that ‘really giving thought to how his communication lands are something women and minorities have always done and now it’s HIS turn. It’s not easy – but it is an essential and critical skill.” It was a powerful insight for BOTH of us.
It’s going to require some practice – and it’s definitely a skill that can be learned.
It isn’t the end of the world if your communication skills need some work. To be honest – we all can improve in that area. Even though we are not responsible for how others engage with our words, we ARE responsible for the words that come out of our mouths. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve how we show up to others.
If you prefer not to think before you speak, want to continue being a bit careless with your words, invent facts (and perhaps need to backpedal your way out of it later) and hope to continue not stopping to think of the implications of what you say, don’t worry. Someone has it taped, written in a tweet, text or email, or recorded it. With a simple Google search, others will know.