I frequently “observe” language and how I, and others, communicate, wondering why there is often a tendency to be less direct, and perhaps more wordy, than necessary. I caught myself today when I started an email with “I am writing to tell you…”. I stopped myself, deleted those words and started over by eliminating that unnecessary start and jumped right into what it was I needed to tell the person. I’ve also noticed a tendency in spoken communication to hedge when doing things like ordering a meal at a restaurant. “Can I have the meatloaf?” Of course you can, it’s on the menu, you are in a restaurant, just ask for it with “I’ll have the meatloaf.” This is more assertive, more direct, and more powerful. These are 2 simple examples; the message of this post is take a step back, read or listen to what you are writing or saying, and consider if there is a better way to communicate. It is probably difficult for some people to take that extra step of considering their own communications, but there is often room to improve and this is one way to do so. Over the years, Melissa and I have had employees whom we have counseled about odd communication patterns – we’ve written about it before. But the impressions others have of you are often dependent on the impressions created by your communication styles.
Added to David’s list of “Can…?” questions is my personal favorite, “Can you spell your last name?”. When I call a client’s office, make an appointment with a medical provider, or deal with someone else who doesn’t know my name, I am often asked this, really stupid, question. My answer to “Can you spell your last name?” is always the same, “Yes.” I have known how to spell my last name since I was 3 years old! I can spell it very well. Thank you for asking. I often wonder if this is some sort of IQ test. Would I be allowed to speak with my client or make an appointment with my physician if I could not spell my last name? I wonder. When the inevitable silence occurs on the other end of the telephone, I wait for the next question, which is usually, “Well, would you please spell it for me?” or something similar. I am not trying to be arrogant or flippant; I truly believe I am answering the question being asked. Why would anyone ask me if I can spell my last name when it would be far more direct to say, “Please spell your last name.” Why would anyone ask a restaurant server, “Can I have the fried shrimp?” to which the proper response is “I don’t know. Can you? Are you allergic to shellfish? Is there a reason you are asking my permission?” when a simple request, “I’ll have the fried shrimp please” will get the order placed? Why? Yes, of course I can spell my last name. Yes, I will have the fried shrimp. I can, and more important, I will!