9 Tips to Increase the Likelihood You'll Be Heard




Did you ever have an important point to make that wasn’t heard or understood? What did you do? If you eventually gave up in frustration, you’re not unusual.

When you have something important to say, a little preparation ahead of time can increase the likelihood you’ll be heard.

Here are 9 tips to increase the likelihood you’ll be heard the first time:

  1. Use  “I statements.” Take personal ownership for the ideas and feelings you express.  When you use terms like “some people” or “our group,” it is difficult to tell what you really think and feel or whether you are just repeating the thoughts and feelings of others.
  2. Provide the context. Explain your intention in communicating, what you hope will happen as a result, and any assumptions you are making. Don’t expect they will accurately fill in the gap on their own, and they might make a different assumption about your intent.
  3. Make your message brief but also complete.  Don’t ramble. Get to the point quickly. But be sure to include all of the information needed to understand your message.
  4. Make your verbal and nonverbal messages congruent.  If you tell someone you appreciate their help, smile. If you are sharing information, make sure your tone does not sound condescending.
  5. Frame your message for the listener.  The same information will be explained differently to an expert in the field than to a novice, to a child than to an adult, or to your boss than a friend.
  6. Say it a different way if you’re not understood. If the listener seems confused, don’t just repeat your message. Explain it in a different way – provide additional information, background information or use different words.
  7. Describe other people’s behavior without evaluating or interpreting.  When giving someone feedback on their behavior, describe what they did. For example, say “You keep interrupting me” instead of interpreting their behavior with something like “You’re self-centered and more interested in yourself than in others.”
  8. When feelings accompany your message, name them and own them. When an unnamed emotional reaction is part of your communication, people will respond to the emotions and not hear the content. Describe your feelings with words like happy, sad, angry, frustrated. Use “I statements” for your feelings. Instead of saying “You made me angry.” Say, “I feel angry.” You are less likely to provoke a defensive reaction.
  9. Ask for feedback on how your messages are being received. When you’re communicating something really important, it’s worth taking the time and asking the person you are talking with to tell you what he heard. It’s the only way you can know for sure how your message was received. If it seems like there’s a pattern of your messages not being heard, it can be quite illuminating to ask for general feedback on how your messages sound to others.

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17 comments to 9 Tips to Increase the Likelihood You’ll Be Heard

  • This is a great post! I particularly liked your tip on taking the time to make sure your verbal and non-verbal messages are congruent! As an FBI agent I took lots of classes on how to read verbal and non-verbal cues for interviews and interrogations. Most people are totally unaware of how their bodies can send messages that conflict with the words they’re using. And when there is a conflict between the two, the body is always more reliable! We’ve learned how to lie with our mouths but our brain always betrays us because that is what controls our body’s responses. Thanks for the great leadership tip.

    • Indeed, LaRae. Our bodies are always communicating. I think some people unintentionally give a message with their body that is out of sync with their true motives, which I speak to in my post.
      You make a excellent point that often it’s out of sync because their words are not the truth. I found your post on body language quite informative: A Language Louder Than Words

  • Great post. So many folks don’t realize that being heard is the responsibility of the presenter. They assume that they will be heard by simply blurting out their ideas, advice and prescriptions. It often has limited impact.

    Your point #9 about seeking feedback is so important. It’s critical to evaluate what’s been understood otherwise the presenter will make assumptions about what’s been absorbed. The line I use is, ‘How do you see this information / conversation being useful to you?’ That gets them thinking purposefully about what they may do with what you’ve said.

    • Thanks, Alan. So often when we focus on communication skills we look at how to understand others better – whether through active listening, inquiry, or understanding personality types. As you point out, this post is about the other side of that coin – how to take responsibility for communicating in a way that others can more easily understand you. I agree that feedback is essential. Your examples of a question one could ask to elicit feedback is very helpful. Thanks for your insights and extending the conversation.

  • Florence Terranova

    A great post to remind the basics of effective communication! Thank you!

  • Jesse,

    Have heard many of these tips before but have never seen them put together in such a comprehensive list and so well stated. Good advice for managers, for people who coach managers and for all.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Jesse

    I really like the second point, which I feel is almost totally ignored in our society today. Without proper context any statement you make is totally without any support, and can lead to making bad decisions. Ignoring context is what our politicians, and mainstream media do all they time, and actually ends up putting us into worse situations than are actually required.

    • Hi Robert,
      You make an excellent point about how the truth is often manipulated by quoting people out of context – a reminder of how important the context is for communications to be clear. There are so many times I would have responded differently if the person making a comment had provided an explanation of their intention. I will often ask questions to learn more about the context, but it always goes much smoother when the speaker provides it in the first place.

  • Wow, very nice tips. Doing all this can make one stand out in other words not part of a herd.
    Thus I would like to remember this as “One is more likely to be heard, if one is not part of a herd”.

  • Appreciate your thumbs up Jesse.
    I am often able to summarize articles and blog posts using phonetics and rhyming.
    I say to myself “It is better to summarize than surmise about the message!”.

  • Jesse, great advice this. So often we take for granted that just because we get it, communicating while “leaving out the obvious” will result in our message getting through. I guess it is a tricky balance to get right the creating context, while also getting to the point.

    • It is a tricky balance, especially these days with the expectation to communicate quickly and in sound bytes. It often leads to more time down the road cleaning up the mess caused by miscommunications. Thanks for bringing up this point, Thabo.

  • Don Carew

    Thoughtful as always Jesse and good reminders. Warm regards, Don

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