Purposeful Communication
There are times when we want to connect with someone. After observing the seeming success that others seem to have with simply gliding over to their desired contact and simply striking up a conversation about, let's say, the weather (or some other rather innocuous topic) and all participants appear to have a great time, the logical conclusion is that it's perfectly all right to waltz over to people and just strike up a conversation for the sake of shooting the breeze. That's what it looks like. That must be what it is.

Actually, it's important to be light and easy in the tone that's used when talking with people about non-critical matters. This puts the listener at ease. They don't feel threatened. But there's more going on in the conversation than just chit chat.

Some people ramble. Others go off on tangents. Some give stream of consciousness. Whatever it is, when pressed for time, the listener can't make heads or tails of what's being said or even why. Because they're distracted, their attention is unwillingly torn and they begin to resent the interruption.

One of the things that should be ascertained is whether the person has time to talk at all. If they're sitting at their desk and staring into space, it may be that in that particular instant of time, they were trying to think of just the right word (or synonym) in order to drive home a point. They may be trying to flesh out an idea for some strategy or a point to be made in a very critical meeting.

The other thing that may be happening is although the person you're seeking looks like they're doing mere ordinary, run-of-the-mill "stuff," that "stuff" may be work that has a deadline. Your ad hoc friendliness is appreciated, and they want to listen attentively because there are certain words being used that indicate you need or want something. They're listening for the point you're working at bringing across. At any second it will happen, but it doesn't. And they've been too polite to say, "Can this wait? I'm working on a deadline right now." In the alternative, they didn't say, "All of this sounds interesting and as though there's a point you're trying to make. Can you just tell me what it is? I have something else I need to be doing right now but I can give you another two minutes."

Some solutions for talking to people and improving the likelihood that your true message is heard is to do a few things:
  • Ask yourself what the bottom line of your communication is. What do you want or want to accomplish?
  • Is this the right time? If this is an interview, it's a given that your listener is prepared to hear you and the time is right. However if your listener is on deadline, make an appointment for a more convenient time.
  • Ask yourself, "Why am I talking?" Your listener will be wondering that if you're delivering a stream of words that don't seem to be going anywhere. Determine what the message is you want to deliver. Sometimes you can ease your way into the subject matter; other times, it's better to be direct. It depends on the circumstances.
  • Determine what the supporting facts are and present them in logical order.
  • Are there examples of what you're proposing? Discuss them.
  • Sum up what you've said.
  • Reflect on what you've heard. Paraphrase what you've heard to assure both your listener and yourself that you correctly understood what you were told.
  • Once you've come to a meeting of the minds, state what your mutual conclusion(s) was and what your responsibilities are for (say) the next 24 to 48 hours or the next two or three steps. Then confirm that you'll be returning to discuss the next phase of what's to be accomplished.
Whether it's an interview, the office party, asking for a raise or promotion, receiving instructions on a new project, or a coincidental meeting where you form a new relationship, make certain what you're saying will be well received. You'll be the winner because of it.