Joy The Baker notices every ingredient in the cupcake she’s handed at your kid’s birthday party. Jeff Goins finds the dangling participles in the copy on the back of the shampoo bottle. The Nester may have a thought or two about those throw pillows on that sitcom’s couch. I critique communicators – the talking kind mostly.
I notice what works, what makes me lose track of time, what moves me from my side of the fence over to theirs. And I make note of what makes me change the station, leave the room, refuse to change or catch some z’s.
Even the best communicators make mistakes. And we all learn how to communicate better when they do. Here are four communication mistakes made by four professional communicators:
Rush Limbaugh – Generalization Is Lying
Rush Limbaugh is by far the most articulate man on American radio today. There’s no contest. His vocabulary astounds. His ability to tie seemingly unrelated news items and observations into one cohesive cogent argument is art. So I listen to his broadcast occasionally, not because of a shared worldview, but to learn how to communicate well. But even Rush makes mistakes.
Rush’s biggest mistake may be generalizing. Generalizing all bike riders as “liberal environmentalist wackos”, for example, may endear to him those opposed to environmentalism (or bicycling) but it’s inaccurate. Generalizations are rarely, if ever, true. And failing to tell the truth because it is nuanced and complicated is both insulting to the listener’s intelligence and, well, a lie. What is of greater worth to an effective communicator than credibility founded on consistent truth-telling?
President Obama – Demanding Instead Of Earning
Regarded as one of our more articulate presidents, President Obama still makes communication mistakes. (I take great comfort in that.) When President Obama is answering questions off the cuff, with no prepared notes before him, he makes unnecessary demands of his listeners. Get him annoyed and he does it even more.
He has a tendency to begin sentences with “look” or “listen.” This may come across as authoritative to some, sure, but also a little condescending. And unnecessary from a great communicator. Many pastors make this mistake too, thinking they’re emphasizing an important point in their discourse, and inadvertently turn-off some in their audience.
Communicators I willingly listen and look to don’t have to demand that I do either. If they want my attention, they earn it.
Sean Hannity – “I’m Telling Ya” Tells Me Nothing
It would make a great drinking game. Listen to Sean Hannity lambast the Left, taking a drink every time he begins a sentence with “I’m telling ya…” Play this game and risk liver failure though: “I’m telling ya” must come out of his mouth fifty times per radio broadcast.
Many professional communicators learned long ago to exorcise “like”, “uh” and “um” from their vocabulary because these words convey no information and, therefore, make communication inefficient and listeners less attentive. But many of us have cleverly replaced these empty words with equally meaningless and inefficient ones. “I’m telling ya” is Sean Hannity’s “um”.
A great way to uncover your “um” is to record yourself speaking, transcribe your speech, then read through it marking through every word or phrase that conveys no information. You may find that some words and phrases pop up repeatedly. Those are your “um”.
Dave Ramsey – “Moron” Makes You Sound Like A Mean One
I teach my kids that there are no bad words. But there are better words. The reason people swear is that they don’t know these better words. That’s what some of your listeners think too.
Bad words don’t have to have four letters. “Moron” and “idiot” have five. Dave Ramsey – who has built a juggernaut of a radio, speaking and publishing empire bent on releasing people from debt so that they may give and live better than ever – is a smart smart man. But I almost forget that when he calls people names.
Imagine I’m just about to cut up my credit cards, do that “debt snowball” thing and buy one of Dave’s books…then he calls someone an idiot. I bristle, feel bad for the recipient of the insult, perhaps get a little annoyed at Dave even, and change the channel in protest…and six months later my house is foreclosed on and I’m a carless environmental wacko riding a bike to work (see what I did there?).
If what I’m communicating is important – life changing even – why risk my likability with the audience by name calling? By using any offensive language?
You are smarter than that. Take the time to find better (kinder) words and you’ll sound like it too.