This semester I taught a professional development class at a local university, a requirement, along with an internship, for all College of Business majors – excellent career preparation. One entire class was devoted to the topic of communication.

 In 2003,  Lise Funderburg wrote an article entitled Secrets of the Great Communicators. She is also the author of Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home which happens to be the Drexel University Freshman Reading Program (FRP) selection for this Summer. For her communication essay, Funderburg interviewed several leaders with diverse yet consistent comments on the subject, worthy of sharing with the class and here in part:

From Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, author of When Character Was King – A Story of Ronald Reagan, and frequent writer for the Wall Street Journal, Time and Good Housekeeping: “You are communicating well when you are speaking the truth clearly and with a gentleness that allows people to relax and think along with you. They won’t do that if they have reason to fear you’ll attack them or attack their beliefs, or use low and sneaky arguments. They won’t do it if they think you’re merely clever. They’ll relax only if they know you’re operating in good faith and without animus.

How to be both forceful and gentle? Say what you think no matter how unpopular your view will be, but say it in a way that does not summon or elicit antagonism. Don’t look for trouble. You don’t have to – the world is full of it, and it will find you on its own.”

Theodore Khell, a mediator and former president of the National Urban League, legendary lawyer and arbitrator, Kheel has worked for AFL-CIO, National Football League, four US presidents and the New York Times.

“Silence is as much a part of communication as speaking . . . Some people feel that they must pound the table or shout or scream to get their point across. But if you keep repeating and insisting and pounding, people might actually think that you’re expressing weakness, that you’re expressing doubt about your position.

We’re all myopic – we see things from our own point of view . . . To get to a solution is to try to see things from the other fellow’s point of view. It’s a modification of what the poet Robert Burns said: that he wishes us to see ourselves as others see us. And my modification is to see others as they see themselves. Now, that’s difficult.”

Marshall Goldsmith, a nationally recognized consultant to clients including 3M, American Express, General Mills, IBM and UB:

“A classic issue with smart, successful people is that we try to be right too often. . . .I teach clients to listen to the other person, take a deep breath, and ask themselves, ‘Is it worth it’ before speaking. Are you right? Maybe. But is it worth it? About half the time, the people I coach say they may be right, but it isn’t worth it. It’s also amazing to me how often we begin with no, but, or however, when we agree. Rather than just say ‘Great idea,’ we’ll start with ‘No.’ What we mean by this is, ‘I already know that’…The benefit of breaking this habit is that we credit others more for what they’ve done, and we start hearing more of what people have to say instead of shutting them down.”

Ambassador Dennis Ross, director of Washington Institute for Near East Policy and lecturer at Harvard: “If you’re focused on scoring points and feeling like you’ve won, you’re inevitably going to aim for the other side to lose. But it’s easy to score points and hard to solve problems. You’ll resolve a conflict only when the needs of both sides are addressed. Not all things are resolvable, but most things are manageable, which means defusing the conflict and limiting its consequences.”

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital management and former financial contributor for ABC’s Good Morning America:  “The one skill I’m continually trying to work on is listening. ….Some of the techniques are very basic, like literally forcing yourself to keep your mouth closed when someone’s talking to you …You have to listen without an agenda, without waiting for an opportunity to inject your own story. Another technique is to say you’re sorry whenever you interrupt. Then you notice how many times you’ve said that, and you’re embarrassed.”

Those were thoughts from 2003. Fast forward to 2012 and some believe silence is the new loud.  Others liken silence to “the sound that mountain lions make when they walk around outside your house!” It just makes people uncomfortable.  I urge my students and clients to refrain from the compulsion to fill silence in conversations, interviews or debates. It has a purpose and can be extremely powerful and effective.

In conclusion, it’s wise to consider simple basic wisdom that has been around for a long time from an old Indian saint, Shirdi Sai Baba:
Before you speak, ask yourself:
is it kind,
is it necessary,
is it true,
does it improve on the silence?
~From the desk of Becky Morlok~
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