Do you recognize this line? Julie Andrews made it famous in the equally famous movie, The Sound of Music. I am chastised frequently by my friends for never having seen the movie AND equally chastised for not knowing the right words to the song. For many years, I would try to bypass conversation about the movie but would proudly start singing the “Do-Re-Mi” song any time it came up in conversation or as a sing-along session in the car.
One time, I was in the car with some co-workers on a business trip and we were discussing songs our mothers sang to us when we were children. Of course, “Do-Re-Mi” came up and we all began to sing the verses; “Do, a deer, a female deer, Re, a drop of golden sun, Mi, a name, I call myself…” We continued singing and we got to the verse, “Tea, a drink with German bread, that will bring us back to Do.” “Wait a minute,” my co-worker stopped us in the middle of the song, “what did you just say?” I sang the verse again. Thinking she needed help remembering this particular verse, I was sure to be loud and VERY clear with my words, “Tea, a drink with German bread…”
The car erupted in laughter; I was not sure what the joke was but I laughed along, not wanting to be left out. After calming down a bit and catching her breath, my co-worker said, “that’s not the line and what in the heck is German bread??” She shared with me that the line actually was, “Ti, a drink with jam and bread…” I was shocked as I thought my line worked just as well as hers (😊) and, of course, I was also embarrassed as I remembered all the times I so proudly sang this beloved song incorrectly! Wow, there was certainly some miscommunication going on when I learned that song!
And that’s how this one small moment in my life became a pivotal learning experience for me, showing just how important the need for proper communication is. The dictionary definition of communication is, “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior.” In my opinion, this seems to be such a flat definition for something so dynamic and important as communication.
That’s because communication is not just information exchange, but also the tone we use, the meaning behind our words and, most importantly, how they are received and understood. The way we say things or the actual words we say can mean one thing to the sender (Ti, a drink with jam and bread) but heard or perceived totally different by the receiver (Tea, a drink with German bread). The challenges of effective communication can become easier if we consider not only the basic parts of the interaction, but the purpose of the message and the needs of the person sending and receiving the message.
- Be clear about your message. What is it you are trying to get across? Don’t spend too much time setting up your message by using filler phrases such as “I hope you understand what I am about to say,” “You’re probably not going to be happy but…,” “So I thought we should get together to talk about this…,” etc. Simplicity is best. Communicate your message clearly and in as few words as necessary. Believe me, I can deliver a 50-word statement in the best 500 words you have ever heard, but then I find there are often misunderstandings, lack of clarity and diminished trust because I was not clear.
- Actively listen. This is the kind way of saying listen and consider what the person is saying rather than using this as a time to take a breath before you get a chance to speak again! Listen carefully to ensure you grasp the true understanding of the message. What is the body language being used as the message is being sent? What is the emotional tone in the message? As a person who unfortunately falls into the “getting ready to speak again” boat a lot, I find that paraphrasing the message back to the person helps to keep me focused on them (rather than me) and shows I care about what they are saying. When active listening is used, communication is far more effective.
- Attend to your body language. I can get distracted so quickly and by such little things! I am also not good at covering up what I am thinking or focusing on someone or something, so when I am not paying attention, it is quite evident. Turn your body towards the person you are talking to, and in this virtual world, this means looking directly into the camera rather than looking at the screen. Use appropriate eye contact and head movements such as shaking your head in agreement or raising your head a bit in an “ah, I see” motion. Leaning in also shows you are interested in hearing and understanding the message.
- Know your audience. The same casual way you speak to your friends or family is not the same way you might speak to a member. Assuming a too-casual conversation style and demeanor might offend someone you are just meeting. When you are dealing with a member’s financial information, they want to know you take them seriously and are confident in the information you are sharing or suggesting. A professional communication style, as well as confidence in what you are saying (think tone and body language), show you know how to adjust your style to meet the needs of your audience.
- Timing is everything. Whether you’re planning to deliver good or bad news, presenting your next best idea or looking for feedback, be aware of the environment and mindset of the person receiving the message or needing to make the decision. Timing can make or break successful communication.
Great communicators are clear, listen and have great timing. By applying these tips and asking for feedback from a trusted source, you can become a master communicator in no time. Otherwise, you might find yourself at a table for one drinking tea with German bread!
Jeanne Heath is the learning and engagement champion for Vizo Financial Corporate Credit Union. Ms. Heath has spent the bulk of her career conducting training within the financial services industry with a strong focus on technical and change management training during mergers and acquisitions. Jeanne has developed and implemented a dynamic onboarding program which immediately immersed new employees into the company culture of “positively impacting people’s lives” through an atmosphere of high performance, high accountability and high care. She is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and has earned her Credit Union Development Education (CUDE) designation.