Words don't come easy to all managers but if they knew colleagues were mimicking their waffle, they would soon sharpen their thoughts, says Winston Fletcher.
Has it ever occurred to you that you can get nothing of any significance done at work without the help of others? Whether you're the grand panjandrum or a humble tea boy, you rely on your colleagues, workmates and subordinates.
You can advise, recommend, give orders or offer help but these involve other people. In our extraordinarily complex economy, the simple words of 16th century poet John Donne ring truer than ever: 'No man is an island'.
So the more successfully you can communicate with other people, the more successful you will be. The secret of communicating with people is persuasive communication. Persuasive communication is communication presented in a way that will persuade people to do what you want them to do without more ado. Over recent years, psychologists have devoted many studies to the problems of personal communication. They have learned five main lessons.
Speak up, speak up
First, make sure you have your listener's attention. Most of us cope with the unending babble in which we live by switching off our ears from time to time. At home, we do not always listen with undivided attention to our partners or kids. (Which is why 'you're not listening to me' must be the most commonly uttered phrase in every family in the world.) Then we transfer our bad habits from home to work.
Speak up, speak up. A surprisingly large number of people - we all know some - speak so quietly they are easy to mishear, or even to ignore. It is often a symptom of insecurity or shyness and people commonly compound the problem by putting their hands in front of their mouths. Don't. There is no point in talking unless you wish to be heard. That doesn't mean shouting but it does mean speaking clearly and positively. Modulate your voice: monotonous speakers turn listeners into sleepers. Never be afraid to raise your voice a few decibels to communicate irritation or, better still, enthusiasm.
Ask confusion-detector questions. Get into the habit of asking them at the end of any complicated instruction. Not aggressive questions but gentle, probing 'when do you think you can do all that by?' questions. Confusion-detectors rapidly establish whether your message has been understood, so you can safely go over and out. Above all, psychologists have proved people are unlikely to be listening to you if they are looking away from you - so never, never give instructions to the backs of people's heads.
Second, decide what you're going to say. Our natural inclination is to start chatting and hope that somehow we will communicate what we intended to communicate, even if we weren't certain what that was when we started.
Never begin unless you know how you are going to finish. Many highly experienced meeting-goers make private notes for themselves before they utter a word.
It's a good habit. Never feel embarrassed to collect your thoughts before speaking. If what you say is right, people will forget the delay but, if what you say is bunkum, people won't admire you for saying it quickly.
Third, don't forget people are only human. Many if not most of the things you say at work will provoke some kind of emotional reaction. It may just be 'oh dear, this means extra work'. It may be fear, anger or resentment, or enthusiasm, hope and joy. It is vital to remember that when people are emotionally upset they cannot concentrate on what they are being told.
This often happens when people are being fired, almost always with unfortunate after-effects, which sometimes end up in court.
Fourth, control your body language To quote Professor Michael Argyle, one of the foremost psychological researchers in the field: 'Human relationships are established, developed and maintained mainly by non-verbal signals, although of course words are used ... These non-verbal signals constitute a silent language which, although they may be the more important aspect of an encounter, operate largely outside the focus of constant attention.' Argyle's experiments have shown that non-verbal signals have about four-and-a-half times the effect of verbal ones and a leading Californian researcher, Albert Mehrabian, puts the figure at almost double that.
Maintain eye contact
Either way, non-verbal signals play a vital role in persuasive communication.
So here are some key rules to keep in mind. Keep looking. On average, in conversation, we look at each other about a third of the time. Don't stare continuously - it causes embarrassment - but if you keep looking more than average, it conveys enthusiasm and liking. Lean forward in your chair as this shows interest and enthusiasm, slouching back suggests boredom.
Avoid confusing contradictions. Don't let your verbal and non-verbal messages conflict. If you make a hostile statement with a smile (or vice versa), the listener may well remember your facial expression and discount the verbal message.
The final lesson is be a good listener. This is so important it deserves an article to itself but here are a few quick tips: be patient; be obviously attentive; don't try to be too clever; don't put people down; show interest by asking for explanations and sometimes admit to your own problems to encourage others to open up theirs.
In any organisation, those who are frequently misunderstood soon get known as bumblers. If half the managers in the world knew how their subordinates and their colleagues mocked and mimicked their waffle, they would rapidly sharpen their thoughts, or become paranoid, or both. A bad workman blames his tools. A bad manager will blame everyone in sight for failing to understand him.
Winston Fletcher is chairman of advertising group Bozell UK and a visiting professor at Lancaster University.