Is your communication full of “donuts”? Here are three easy ways to tell:
A communication “donut” is any word, phrase or description that could be interpreted numerous ways, depending on the lens and interest of the receiver. For example, if you ask a group of six people, “What do you think of when I say ‘donut’?” you’ll probably get six different answers, like,
The point is that while you may imagining and salivating over a pumpkin spice cake donut with cinnamon sugar on top, everyone else in the group has mentally wandered off, either to their own favorite donut, or none at all if they dislike them. Either way, they’re not with you, and your message gets lost or misinterpreted.
Instead of donuts, try serving up something more vivid when you communicate: a freshly grilled steak done medium-rare or a spicy black bean veggie burger with chunky homemade salsa. In other words, paint an unmistakably clear picture that cannot be interpreted multiple ways. As you do it, remember another simple truth about the human body: we feel every thought we think. The clearer, crisper and more specific your words, the faster and more completely your recipient will both understand and be energized to join you mentally.
Words like “better,” “bigger” and “faster” are “donut” words that can have multiple meanings and are easily misinterpreted. Consider: “we’re going to get more patients discharged quickly this week” versus, “We’re going to help 20 patients be discharged this week with bright smiles on their faces because we reduced waiting time by 50%.” Another example: “Let’s do better on safety this week,” versus, “We want every one of you to have a 100% safe week so you can go home on Friday and relax with your family, friends or pets.”
The human mind thinks in pictures, and it’s designed to see the positive. So if I say, “DON’T slam the door!” the “not” drops out, and you still get a mental picture of a door slamming shut. But if I say, “Please close the door quietly,” the image is entirely different, and my objective is clear.
So be careful to make your mental pictures positive, because clearly spoken negative ones can have an impact you don’t want. I once consulted with a trucking company that had a huge decal on the door of every vehicle with the universal “no” sign over a picture of what looked like a truck crashing. Their message was clear, unmistakable, and evoked negative emotion. When I asked about it, they said, “We want our drivers to have Zero accidents.” I asked them why they would want their drivers to be picturing what they didn’t want to happen as they got behind the wheel. So after some consideration, they changed the decals to “100% safe!”
Author Steven Covey, in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” pointed out the importance of beginning with the end in mind. This approach works for your communication, too. What result to you want from the message you’re sending? What mental picture are you trying to create? What do you want the receiver to know and feel?
Once you know the impact you want to make, use pictures, examples, metaphors and similes rather than vague words to describe what you want. If you have a hard time with language or just want to keep it simple, use a comparison to something that both you and the receiver have experienced and describe it as vividly as you can.
The average person now has an attention span of 8 seconds, less than that of a goldfish. So if you want to get a point across, you have to do it quickly. Ask yourself these three questions:
If your communication answers all three questions, you’ll likely find that people not only understand you better; they also are more likely to meet your expectations in their responses.
When you’re done reading this blog, take a look at your last three emails or reflect back to a meeting you had earlier. Were you feeding your audience something that felt good to them, or just stuffing their inbox or calendar with a lot of fluff? Try offering more mentally and emotionally nourishing fare, and both you and your colleagues just might find your connections more satisfying.
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