Communicating to Be Understood
The purpose of communicating - whether it's oral, written, sign language or Morse code - is that both parties understand what is being said. It is primarily the sender's responsibility to ensure that the recipient receives and understands the communication.
The techniques used by excellent communicators vary. The following 8 tips are effective and frequently used by great communicators:
- Much of what we communicate is not the words that are said, but rather it is the tone of voice and body language. There needs to be alignment between words, tone and body language.
- Use a vocabulary that is familiar to the listener. Inquire of the listener's sophistication in the "legal world" by asking about their experience. Err on the side of using non-legal terms. Err on the side of using simpler words.
- If legal terms such as MSJ, motion to dismiss or complaint are used in communications, define the term. This is especially true for novice legal services users.
- Don't overwhelm the listener. Too much information easily becomes no information. There is no need to explain "everything" in one meeting. People can only digest so much new information at one time.
- Watch the listener and check in for understanding. Facial expressions are one way to determine if the listener understands.
- When in doubt, ask for feedback. Have the listener explain what they heard.
- In written communication there is not the benefit of being able to observe body language. Tone is especially important and requires a careful choice of words. This is one of the primary reasons why disputes and conflicts rarely get resolved by email and frequently just make people more upset.
- A good way to determine if the listener understands is to REALLY listen to what they are saying in response.
About the author: Gary J. Jaburg is the managing partner of the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He assists clients with employment and business matters, workouts of financial issues and business divorce.