Two Ways to Increase Your Receptivity
Recently, I had two different coaching clients coming for sessions on exactly the same communication issue. Though the material was the same between the two, the sessions varied wildly. One client’s sessions were full of laughter—LOUD laughter! The other’s were more subdued with occasional tears. One client wanted to get up, move around, and try out the skills; the other did an enormous amount of work on underlying mindsets and perceptions. One client needed some small talk at the beginning of every session; the other jumped right to the issue with laser-like focus. Both needed similar skills. Both got terrific results. Yet they each needed a different approach. Had I delivered the information the same way to each person, only one of them would have been successful. That’s a lousy success rate!
You need the ability to modify your approach to be successful, too. Your content—the actual message—is only one piece of the puzzle. You also need to pay attention to delivery and reception. How do you convey your message? Your volume, voice tone, posture, quality of breathing, gestures, and use of eye contact can drastically affect its meaning. And how is the message received? Just as letters can get lost in the mail (remember when people sent handwritten letters in the mail…?), your message can get “lost” in transmission from your brain to another person’s brain, too.
The #1 way you can influence your reception is by working on your delivery. The content of the message doesn’t have nearly as much impact as how you deliver it. Be mindful of your approach and adjust it for best results. Ask yourself these two things:
1. What does my audience need?
Whether you’re speaking one-on-one or to a group, your audience will understand your message better if you speak their nonverbal language. The person or group you are speaking to may be focused on resolving an issue quickly or may need to establish some rapport. They could be all-business or could be warm and fuzzy. They might want you to be straightforward and brutally honest or they may need you to provide some emotional safety.
All this is communicated nonverbally. Most of the time, people don’t go around saying, “I need some space today” or “I don’t have time for chit-chat” or “I could really use some cheering up.” At least, not with words. They say it through their use of eye contact, their tone of voice, their posture, their breathing patterns, and their use of space and touch. When you pick up on those cues and modify your approach to meet the needs of your audience, you improve receptivity, credibility, rapport, and understanding.
Speak the other person’s language, and they’ll recognize it. Give them the message in a way they can hear, and they’ll hear it. Meet them where they are and they can’t help but respond. Most of the time we communicate with our preferred methods. It’s easy and natural and comfortable. But if the message gets lost in translation, what’s the point of sending it? You might as well talk to a wall.
The greater the difference between your preferred style and your audience’s, the harder it will be to adapt. But if you want communication to actually happen, push yourself outside your comfort zone and give them the message the way they need to hear it. If you’re generally “nice,” but your audience only understands “blunt,” be blunt. Soften your approach with someone who is sensitive, chat with someone who is chatty, drop your voice volume with someone who is quiet. Don’t mimic them; that’s disrespectful. But do your best to meet their needs.
2. What does the situation or message call for?
You can’t deliver ground rules in the same way you invite people to brainstorm. You don’t convey expertise the same way you convey warmth. You can’t comfort a grieving friend the same way you cheer on kids at a track meet. (Hopefully, that last one didn’t catch anyone by surprise.) The situations are different and your nonverbals must be different, too.
In general, when you’re distributing information, use nonverbals that convey authority. When you’re inviting participation, use more approachable nonverbals. Make sure that your delivery is appropriate for the situation.
When you use communication that fits the situation and message, you increase your credibility. And when you give people what they need, they reward you with respect and rapport. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it really goes against the grain. But if you think it’s hard to change your own communication style, try expecting everyone else to adapt to you. Good luck with that! You only have control of your own behavior. Make it work for you by making it work for others.