The HOW Can Matter More than the WHAT

baseball-and-glove-SMLI grew up in a baseball family. My brother played, my father coached, and my mother was the team scorekeeper. My mom loved being the scorekeeper because it kept her away from the stands where all of the parents were second guessing the coach (her husband) and critiquing his communication style. You see, my dad was loud. His directions and feedback were loud and clear not only on our field, but 2-3 fields away. One player’s mom asked my mom how she tolerated my father yelling at the kids all the time. She laughed and said she ignores most of what he says anyway. The player’s mother was not amused. Later that evening my mom shared the story with my dad. He responded defiantly “I don’t yell. I just make sure the kids can hear me.” He truly had no idea how anyone could see his loud delivery of instructions as being aggressive, negative, or threatening. In his mind, he was just making sure everyone heard what he said.

In our personal and professional lives, we all want to make sure we’re heard. Unfortunately, when the method of delivery evokes an emotional reaction, the message itself is lost on the recipient. We focus, instead, on the way the interaction made us feel.

The volume, tone, pace, and body language we use matters almost as much as the words we say. Humans naturally infer emotions from every available detail. No eye contact, too much eye contact, arms crossed, standing too close, standing too far away, speaking with a deep voice, tilting the head to the side- each of these small details can completely change the way we interpret a message.

To avoid unfortunate miscommunications that can impact relationships for a lifetime, you must be aware of the words you choose and the way you deliver them. Often, the way we deliver the message is fueled by our own emotions. For example, when a team member reports that they have been unable to complete a goal due to roadblocks outside of their control, you may express frustration as a response. It’s important, though, to make sure you articulate where the frustration is directed. Without being explicit, your team member might hear the frustration in your voice and internalize it.

It all comes down to self-awareness. Are your team members hearing the message the way you intended it or are you frequently encountering miscommunication issues? When you find yourself apologizing for miscommunications frequently, it’s a signal that you are not taking the listening of others into account. Start by asking your team to weigh in on your communication style and be open to their honest feedback. It may take coaching to improve your communication skills, but with accurate feedback and a sincere desire to improve, you can go from being loud to being heard.