Want To Be Heard? Speak Softly…

Lakhovsky: The Convesation; oil on panel (Бесе...

Lakhovsky: The Convesation; oil on panel (Беседа), 51.1 x 61.3 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who doesn’t want to be heard?  I’ve got things to share and so do you.  Passions, beliefs, information, opinions, jokes…the list is pretty long.

Central to who we are as people and as a community is how well we communicate. Clarity, empathy, and a foundation of understanding of and agreement with terms (I usually refer to this as semantics) help to make communication successful. In my experience, there are a number of behaviors that contribute to “getting heard” in our ongoing communications. Speaking softly is something that seems counter-intuitive, since the natural thing we do if we don’t feel like we’re being heard is SHOUT. However, if you really wish to get focused attention, it is a very useful technique.

Consider these points:
  • Off-line (or In Real Life [IRL]), this is a matter of context, volume and tone. There is overlap among these three.
    • The context is the kind of gathering or discussion that is taking place. Is this a noisy venue or party, or a face-to-face with a good friend? Is this a presentation to the board of directors, or a support group? Are you in the woods camping or driving a bus? In any of these contexts, the degree of attention given or available is highly variable. If distractions are numerous, it can be more difficult to speak softly and retain attention.
    • Volume is the most obvious factor. If someone has to listen more closely to hear you, they will pay closer attention. Shouting triggers so many negative psychological responses in hearers that block communication that, unless it’s a serious emergency (think yelling “FIRE!“), it should be avoided.
    • Tone is a different kind of volume. It is the volume of attitude, credibility and humility. Quiet snark is still snark. You may think yourself clever and get a few snickers, but the likelihood of your words being truly memorable or worthwhile for others is lower. If you are a credible expert in the conversation, you could whisper your thoughts and others will hang on every word. Oh, and the designation ‘credible expert’ is bestowed by others and not you. Third party recognition has much higher value that standing up and declaring yourself an expert just prior to pontificating on a subject.
  • On-line the factors are the same, with slight variations of definition….and they overlap, too.
    • Context has more to do with whether the conversation you’re taking part in is one in which you have something to contribute, even if it is only coherent affirmation. I define coherent affirmation here as more than just “Like“, +1 or re-tweet. Ideally, if you agree, say why.  If you disagree say why….and without being vituperative or snarky. A good contextual contribution will further the conversation, not shut it down or send it spiraling towards areas that are not relevant or worthwhile.
    • Consideration of volume is more than not using the NUMS LOCK! It isn’t a crime to be passionate about a topic (it is much better to be so, as that be help establish credibility and, to a lesser degree, some kinds of leadership), but the point of your passion is not to shut down everyone else. Expression of passion is a factor of authenticity and, done in an open way, will spur further conversation and enhance communications.
    • Tone is very closely aligned with volume online. I completely agree with Guy Kawasaki that swearing online only undermines your credibility since it demonstrates an inability to communicate clearly without resorting to relative incoherence.  Again, passion around a topic is great, but you need to know how to express it in such a way that attracts others to your viewpoint.
My experience has been that the more softly I make my point, the more closely that point is listened to and heard. What examples can you give that support this technique? Please share them in the comments!

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