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Words that Win
What to Say to Get What You Want
By Don Gabor
Conversation Arts MediaCopyright © 2013 Don Gabor
All rights reserved.
Polishing Your Professional Communication Style
"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."
— Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. president, 1743-1826
In this chapter, you will learn:
Five ways to sharpen your speaking style Seven quick steps to a bigger and more effective vocabulary Body language that projects poise and power Four ways to make your coworkers like and respect you
When the young congressman from Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson, entered President Franklin D. Roosevelt's office, he wanted to discuss his proposal for bringing electricity to the rural areas in his district. However, much to Johnson's dismay, Roosevelt talked nonstop for most of the meeting.
Frustrated yet undeterred, Johnson knew he had to adjust his communication style if he wanted to sell his idea to the president. At their next meeting, Johnson began his pitch before Roosevelt could even utter a word.
"Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink," Johnson spouted. "Public power everywhere and not a drop for my poor people." It then took Johnson only another few minutes to convince Roosevelt to support his project.
Your communication style — the way you talk to and influence people — can always benefit from a little extra polish. Just like politicians who focus on the smallest details of their speeches and proposals, polishing your communication style will help you choose and use the right words when you talk to people at work.
Five Ways to Sharpen Your Speaking Style
"I have noticed that nothing I never said ever did me any harm."
— Calvin Coolidge, thirtieth U.S. president, 1872-1933
A manager for a large manufacturer returned to his office after listening to the company's president drone on at a meeting. When a coworker asked what the president spoke about, the manager replied, "Well, he didn't say."
Everyone has listened to coworkers or superiors who talk and talk but never get to the point. Your ability to express your ideas, experiences, opinions and feelings set you apart from those annoying folks who ramble on endlessly before they actually decide (if they ever do) what they want to say.
If you summarize your ideas with a few pithy sentences, your coworkers will not only remember what you said, but will also respect your ideas. Here are five ways to sharpen your speaking style using well-chosen words.
1. TELL "WHAT IS IT ABOUT?" IN JUST A FEW SENTENCES
Get into the habit of telling coworkers and clients the main ideas of books and articles you have read or workshops you have attended that might interest them. The subject of your remarks can be work-related, a funny TV show or whatever else seems right for the situation and person. You can use the five journalist questions — Who? What? When? Where? or Why? — to help you summarize.
For example, if you are chatting with a coworker or client before a meeting about an upcoming sales presentation, you might say, "I attended an interesting workshop last night on the art of public speaking.
The instructor was a real pro and everyone had a chance to stand before the group and speak for three minutes about whatever he or she wanted." If your coworker shows interest, then briefly describe something you learned or that happened that captures the essence of the workshop. If time permits, recall a few colorful details about an exercise you enjoyed or even a topic that someone spoke about that you found interesting.
2. SPEAK IN PLAIN ENGLISH WITH CONCRETE WORDS
Have you ever talked with somebody who tried to impress you with highbrow vocabulary? Were you impressed by five-syllable words that sounded as if they belonged in a doctoral thesis or national spelling bee? Probably not, because you were too busy trying to figure out what the person was talking about.
It's true that a powerful vocabulary can have a strong impact, but only if you choose relevant words that convey meaning. Instead of using fancy "five dollar words," use colorful nouns and precise verbs that "paint pictures." When you do, others will understand and remember what you say.
3. USE SHORT, STRONG SENTENCES
Long, rambling sentences that start at one end of the room and end on the other side might confuse your listener. One easy way to avoid wordy sentences is to place the subject of your sentences (nouns naming people, places and things) close to the action words or verbs. Another way to be more concise is to eliminate these three useless expressions:
Omit "the fact that." Don't say: "The fact that we are number one in sales points to the fact that ..."
Do say: "We are number one in sales. As a result, ..."
Omit "who is." Don't say: "Ms. Smith, who is the head of our division, will speak today."
Do say: "Ms. Smith, our division head, will speak today."
Omit "which was." Don't say: "Our annual report, which was released last month, stated that ..."
Do say: "Our annual report, released last month, stated that ..."
4. MAKE DIRECT STATEMENTS
I don't know about you, but I hate it when I hear people using feeble phrases like "not so bad" or "could have been better" when they really mean "bad," "mediocre" or "disappointing." If you want a professional speaking style that resonates with confidence, then tell it like it is.
5. OMIT "VERBAL TICKS"
Verbal ticks are constant repetitions of words or phrases such as, "Well," "Ya know?" "Okay?" "Yeah." "You know what I'm saying?" "Uh-huh." "Like." These empty words fill the air but do not provide listeners with additional details or ideas to which they can respond. The only response might be an echo: "Yeah, I know what you mean." Or "Okay!"
Omitting verbal ticks will clean up your conversation style and encourage people to pay more attention to what you say.
Sharpening your speaking style makes people pay attention and understand what you say. But you can increase your influence even more when you use a powerful vocabulary.
Seven Quick Steps to a Bigger and More Effective Vocabulary
"We must have a better word than 'prefabricated.' Why not 'readymade'?"
— Winston Churchill, British statesman, 1874-1965
James Thurber, American humorist and writer, loved to tell this story when the subject of vocabulary came up during conversation. "While recovering in the hospital," Thurber said, "I asked a nurse, 'What seven-letter word has three u's in it?' The woman paused and then smiled, 'I don't know, but it must be unusual.'"
A powerful vocabulary helps you think on your feet during a meeting, presentation or interview. However, it is not just the number of syllables or unusual usage that impresses clients, supervisors or potential employers — it is choosing just the right word.
Remember to use appropriate vocabulary for the people with whom you are talking. For example, you will impress computer engineers, manufacturing executives or sales people more if you use the vocabulary associated with their industry.
Here are quick ways to build a powerful vocabulary so you can come up with just the right word anytime, anyplace and with anyone.
1. LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THE WORDS COWORKERS USE
Instead of ignoring words you do not know, guess their meanings based on how they are used. If you are still unsure you can ask, "What do you mean by ...?"
2. STUDY THE TRADE JOURNALS
Read newspapers, magazines and books focusing on topics that interest you or your clients. The more you read about a subject, the faster your vocabulary will grow and the more comfortable you will be discussing the topic.
3. LEARN THE INDUSTRY LANGUAGE
If you are unfamiliar with a particular business or industry, read trade magazines to learn about the special vocabulary their members use.
4. LOOK UP WORDS YOU DON'T KNOW
Keep your own personal dictionary handy and immediately look up unfamiliar words. Circle the words in the dictionary you look up so when you see them again, you can review their meanings.
5. KEEP A WORD JOURNAL
Write down new words in a journal and frequently review their meanings.
6. USE VOCABULARY-BUILDING MATERIALS
Use a "new words-a-day" calendar or other vocabulary-building books, audiotapes, video tapes and vocabulary development programs. Focus on words that you find useful.
7. EXERCISE YOUR NEW VOCABULARY EVERY DAY
Practice blending new and old vocabulary into your face-to-face conversations, on the telephone, in e-mail, in memos and in letters. In other words, expand your vocabulary each time you speak and write.
Remember that clients and coworkers are most impressed when you "talk their language" and can come up with the right words without fumbling. Now that you know what to say, the next thing to consider is how you say it. That's where body language plays a critical role.
P-O-l-S-E-D Body Language Sends Confident and Powerful Nonverbal Signals
P = Position yourself
O = Open stance
I = Interact immediately
S = Shake hands
E = Eye contact
Body Language That Projects Poise and Power
"Drawing on my finest command of language, I said nothing."
— Robert Benchley, American humorist, 1889-1945
What was the decisive moment in the 1992 televised debate between then President George H. Bush Sr. and his Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton? Television cameras caught an obviously uncomfortable President Bush glancing at his watch. Many political analysts still believe that those few critical seconds contributed to George Bush Sr. losing the presidential election.
Body language — or nonverbal communication — always plays a critical role in how others interpret your messages and assess your competence. Effective body language — frequent eye contact, smiling, shaking hands, sitting or standing erect with unfolded arms — signals confidence and makes people want to communicate with you.
On the other hand, fidgeting with your hair, playing with a pen, folding your arms, chewing gum, slouching, sitting at the far end of a conference table or avoiding eye contact silently says you are nervous, indifferent, not listening and, worst of all, lacking confidence.
To enhance your body language, use the word P-O-I-S-E. Each letter in the word stands for body language that sends the message that you are poised and confident.
P = POSITION YOURSELF
When you are in a conference room waiting for a meeting to begin, your body language sends signals to everyone around you, not just those with whom you are chatting. Where you stand or sit and how you position yourself in relation to others can enhance your image.
If you want to be noticed, stand or sit close enough to influential coworkers and clients to engage in conversation. Studies show that leaders prefer the head or corners of tables at conferences, so the closer you are to these positions, the more authority and confidence you project.
Take care not to stand too close or too far away from the people with whom you are talking. Standing too close to a new business acquaintance may make him or her feel threatened or uncomfortable. However, standing too far away might seem like a rebuff or rejection.
Note that in small groups, most Americans feel comfortable talking at a distance of about 2 to 3 feet. In larger groups, typical standing distance is about 3 to 4 feet. Remember that "comfort zones" vary among cultures, so watch your conversational partners and adjust your distance from them accordingly.
O = OPEN STANCE
Open stance means keeping your arms unfolded. Folding your arms is one of the biggest body language mistakes you can make. With your arms folded, you present a picture of someone who is closed-minded, defensive and uptight — hardly the nonverbal signals that impress clients, coworkers or company executives.
Now you might say, "But I'm comfortable with my arms folded, and besides, I never know what to do with my hands."
Although you may feel comfortable with your arms folded, it sends the opposite signal to those around you, so uncross your arms. What can you do with your hands? Fold them in your lap or in front of you, take notes and use them to emphasize points that you make.
I = INTERACT IMMEDIATELY
I advise people attending my conversation workshops to interact with their coworkers and clients before a meeting because silence can be deadly. The longer you silently wait, the more uncomfortable most people become. By interacting immediately, you show you are confident and want to talk. Plus, it casts you as a powerful "person of influence" who helps others make connections.
Many new employees avoid joining ongoing conversations at work because they feel that they may be intruding or that their coworkers are "cliquish." Here again you can show your confidence and professionalism by encouraging newcomers to join your group.
First, send out friendly signals using body language. Make eye contact, smile, keep your arms unfolded and angle your body outward toward the person who you think wants to join you. Next, create an opening in the circle of your group where the new person can easily enter and comfortably stand. You can even offer a friendly wave or nod that says, "Come join us." When the person joins you, be sure to introduce him or her to the others in the group.
S = SHAKE HANDS
Shaking hands is an ancient ritual dating back to Roman times. In those days, shaking hands showed that neither person held a weapon. Today, it is a ritual business greeting, but more important, a firm handshake between men and women signals mutual respect, confidence and professionalism.
However, there is still confusion about who should first extend a hand, the man or the woman. I can already hear those people quoting Emily Post's rule: "Men should wait for the woman to offer her hand first." Yes, that was the proper thing to do fifty years ago, but not today, especially in the business world.
To add to the confusion, many women wait for the man to make the first move. If neither man nor woman offers to shake hands, both feel uncomfortable. Therefore, I recommend that men and women offer to shake hands with anyone they meet in social and business situations.
E = EYE CONTACT
Steady eye contact shows interest, encourages others to talk and, most important, shows you are listening. Avoiding eye contact, looking away or closing your eyes for a few seconds creates a negative impression.
For some people, eye contact is the most difficult body language skill to master. If you feel uncomfortable with eye contact, these tips can help:
Eye contact does not need to be an unbroken pupil-to-pupil connection. Look at the person's entire face as you talk and listen.
Occasionally your gaze may focus elsewhere as you chat. After a moment, return your gaze to the eyes and smile.
Don't fix your gaze only upon one person as you chat within a small group. Be sure to establish eye contact with everyone participating in the conversation.
When you communicate with P-O-I-S-E (Position yourself, Open stance, Interact immediately, Shake hands and Eye contact), people will feel more comfortable talking to you. In addition, adopting a confident posture can actually make you feel more self-assured.
Now you are ready to send consistent messages with your verbal and nonverbal language. But what messages can you send that make others like you and respect you?
Four Ways to Make Your Coworkers Like and Respect You
"Being popular is important. Otherwise, people might not like you."
— Mimi Pond, American writer
Although Hollywood film producer Louis B. Mayer was not particularly well liked by his peers, hundreds of people attended his funeral. His equally unpopular partner, Samuel Goldwyn, explained the huge turnout: "The reason so many people showed up at his funeral was because they wanted to make sure he was dead."
Everybody wants peer respect, but how do you get it? Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, suggested, "Make people feel good about themselves and they will feel good about you."
Earning the respect of your coworkers is not like winning a popularity contest. Lasting respect among your peers is built and maintained by competently and fairly doing your job. Use the following tips, and your coworkers will like and respect you.
Treat everyone with equal respect.
Be competent, not conceited.
Find out what people do well and praise them.
Take a personal interest in others.
"The lame tongue gets nothing."
To communicate effectively, speak clearly and eliminate feeble phrases, jargon and verbal ticks from your vocabulary. Expanding your vocabulary and using poised body language will project power, confidence and competence.
Excerpted from Words that Win by Don Gabor. Copyright © 2013 Don Gabor. Excerpted by permission of Conversation Arts Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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