Sometimes, what goes unsaid is as important as what is said. I was struck by this truth following Donald Trump’s comment about Ghazala Khan, the mother of an American Muslim soldier killed in Iraq. She chose to remain silent during her husband’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Trump suggested it was because she wasn’t “allowed” to speak; something she later said was false. Like many people, I found her silence to be profoundly moving. In fact, I found it perhaps, as powerful as if she had spoken.
The power of the unspoken word is something to remember in business communication too. Sometimes you have to “read between the lines” to try and understand what someone really means. As Peter Drucker, the management consultant and professor aptly wrote, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
Mark Vickers, writing about Drucker on his blog, Speaking Is Selling, concurs. He says that the challenge, as a businessperson, is that we are often so busy thinking about our own message, we aren’t always fully listening. So, how do you apply the notion of paying attention to what is not said to improve your own business communication skills? Here are some tips I think you’ll find helpful.
The Power of the Unspoken Word: Three Top Tips
1.) Watch and Wait
Don’t feel you have to fill up space with your own words. Listen and observe body language and visual cues. Pay attention to emotional responses. Recognize that there may be cultural differences between you and someone else. Not every culture prizes direct expression.
2.) Analyze and Assess
Think about what the other person’s intention is. What is their goal and motivation? If what the other person is saying does not seem to jibe with what you intuit their true position to be, ask for clarification.
3.) Prepare and Provide
You will always have a better opportunity to listen and analyze if you have organized your own thinking in advance. That way, you can share your perspective without stumbling, and you will find it easier to be a good listener, as well.
When you think about it, we “read between the lines” in every day communication, all of the time. It reminds me of an ellipsis, where we mentally fill in words that are left out of what someone writes or says.
For example, if someone says, “If possible, come early,” what they mean is, “If [it is] possible, [you] come early.” Those of us fluent in the English language have no problem automatically decoding the meaning of the previous sentence. A good business communicator has to consciously try and understand what is unspoken, and cultivate sensitivity to individual responses in a given situation. Not all of us, thankfully, take the Donald Trump approach.
For more insights and ideas on how you can improve your business communication, contact me at The Language Lab