Recently, during a cocktail hour at my company’s global sales conference, a colleague initiated a conversation about the way another colleague was holding his hands in a photo that was posted on social media. Apparently, the pose was considered offensive in his country.

We discussed the backstory and I received a very interesting history lesson on why this particular hand gesture is considered offensive by some people and not by others. And it got me thinking: Is what you communicate being heard in the way you intend it?

A two-way street

One of the first things you learn as a child is to listen as much as you talk. My family used to tell me, “Communication is a two-way street.” Our world is one of constant communication and yet cultural, geographic, age, gender and life experience all influence how information is received and understood.

So how do you ensure you are communicating what you intended, especially when it requires a higher level of sophistication to interpret your meaning from diverse recipients? Below are three key ways to ensure your audience hears exactly what you intend:

  1. Know yourself. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is key when communicating to others. If you practice what you are good at, and seek to identify and avoid your gaps, you will be more successful.
  2. Know your audience. What kind of learner and decision maker are you dealing with? What do they want to hear? Are you malleable enough as a leader to adjust your style to suit your audience?
  3. Know how to check for understanding. One of my favorite moments in my career occurred in a room with one of the country’s top CMOs. I was second chair in a very detailed RFP response meeting, where the sales leader spoke for almost an hour—and was losing the CMO. She was just about to leave, so I completely interrupted the session to ask her if she was tracking and if we were heading in the right direction. Her energy changed and she said, “Thank you for asking. No, can we adjust the meeting and talk like partners, and not presenter and audience?” Talk about a change of tone. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Remember the communication essentials

Being heard—and ensuring you are accurately understood—is all about listening, articulating your message clearly and checking for understanding. If you are not doing all three, the odds are you are not being heard. Which, of course, is exactly opposite of what you intended.

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