MCLEOD: The reasons so many people are bad communicators

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

From the anal retentive drones whose power point presentations seem to last for weeks to the overbearing braggart who can’t stop telling you how wonderful he is, some people just aren’t very good at communicating.

You’ve probably also experienced your share of the awkward silences, stammered replies and mid-sentence brain freezes that can stall a meeting, presentation or date.

We tend to think of great communicators as great talkers. But as the bores and braggarts reveal, it’s not the quantity of words that makes you a skilled communicator; it’s the quality.

Communication expert author Alan Weiss says, “People have a tendency to tell others everything they know,” as opposed to just what the listener needs to hear.

Weiss, the author of “Million Dollar Speaking,” says, “Ironically, people talk too much because they don’t listen well. If you don’t listen well, you start thinking ahead to what you want to say.”

Too much information actually lessens your impact, especially if you share it in big, long droning sentences like the Charlie Brown teacher talk (wah-woh-wah-wah).

We’ve all been in meetings where the loudest voices took precedence over the best ideas. But why do people let the over-talkers get away with it?

Weiss, a consultant who works with major corporations and who also mentors and coaches consultants and professional speakers says, “People might not speak up because there are strong personalities in the room that they don’t want to argue with or debate.”

When people appear to be very opinionated, we assume that they’ll defend that opinion, so we don’t want to say anything that might counter it.

But in many cases, it’s a false assumption. Weiss cites the example of a strong CEO whose employees believed they couldn’t disagree with him. The office scuttlebutt was “don’t challenge the boss,” but Weiss himself found that the CEO was actually very receptive to hearing conflicting arguments.

People often don’t speak up, says Weiss, because they’re afraid it will ruin the relationship. Women in particular are afraid that if they object or speak out in a business environment, they won’t be able to maintain a good working relationship with the person.

It’s kind of ironic. You stay silent for fear of ruining the relationship, but what sort of a relationship do you have if one person is always biting their tongue?

Another reason people are afraid to speak out is because they feel like they don’t have all the facts. But as Weiss points out, you don’t have to have all the facts to raise the issue. All you have to say is, “I’m concerned about this; can we discuss it?”

If you’re a big yacker, it’s hard to understand how someone could sit silently on the sidelines, especially if they have an opinion about something.

As someone who struggles with the over-talker affliction myself, I often have to remind myself it’s just as hard for some people to speak up as it is for me to shut up.

Here’s the bottom line: The advice to over-talkers and under-talkers is exactly the same: listen intently to what the other person is saying, figure out how you can add to the outcome, and then tailor your message appropriately.

The more you listen, the more powerful and succinct you can make your own message.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of “The Triangle of Truth,” a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for leaders. She is a keynote speaker, business strategist, columnist and president of McLeod & More Inc. an international training and consulting firm.