We are used to the idea of measuring our efficiency in our jobs; we have KPI’s for our performance, specific metrics we need to achieve and regular reviews with our bosses and/or team. But how much thought do we put into measuring our communication? And if it isn’t up to scratch, how often do we analyse and isolate the incident so we can learn from it?
The neglected skill
Communication itself is a big old pot, filled with things like rapport building, body language, writing emails, conflict resolution, negotiation and the like. However, a little corner of communication that often gets neglected is elocution. It focuses on how you say what you say. Things like enunciation, clarity, mumbling, pace of speech and colour and tone in your voice. And it can help enormously in the workplace.
Speak with impact
Let's say you are giving a presentation. You have prepared it for a week, know your subject matter inside out, have carefully crafted slides to support a finely tuned argument, and yet imagine that your tongue was tied to the door. Do you think people would be able to enjoy your presentation as you struggled to say the most basic of words? No, of course not. Now, let's reduce the effect, your tongue is liberated (phew) but every time you pronounce a ‘t’ you get a little electric shock, so you drop all the t’s instead. Its less extreme but the same principle. If the words aren’t said in their entirety, people will at worst struggle to understand them, and if they do understand them, will just hear a word that is a bit sloppy, a bit unloved. No matter how good the speaker is, when they say an important word whilst dropping a consonant off its end, the effect is like having a word thrown at you in a slapdash way, a little like a five year old slinging a Frisbee. Like it or not, it takes away at least some of the impact of the speech. Speaking with good elocution is a simple way to make sure your brilliant presentation is received with the respect it deserves.
Now obviously we need to have good elocution when speaking to an audience, but surely it matters less when we are just with one other person?
Well no, in a way it matters even more. Let's say you have a lunch meeting with a new potential client. Imagine that someone swaps your water for vodka (that tastes strangely like water – it is an imaginary situation after all!), and you drink two glasses before the client arrives. When they arrive you find your tongue feels like an inflated balloon in your mouth and your sounds are barely recognisable. Try as you might you can't get a sentence out with a crisp consonant or a clear-as-a-bell word in sight. Imagine the effect on your client. They would get the impression you were sloppy and out of control, a messy, inarticulate person they don’t want to do business with. While we’re not saying anyone sounds this bad, the example illustrates just how much we are affected by someone speaking in what appears to be a lazy or unclear way. We can jump to the conclusion that the speaker doesn’t care about what they are saying if they don’t seem motivated to get the words heard by their listener. And when you think about it, it’s a reasonable assumption.
Communicating in job interviews
Having good elocution matters even more in a job interview, where the recruiter is looking at every aspect of a person and questioning the ramifications of every weakness they can find. If the interviewee speaks in a way that is unclear, and perhaps too fast or too quiet or too slow, then not only will the interviewer find themselves unengaged, but also they will be thinking about the interviewee’s ability to communicate with the bosses, the clients, the team, the colleagues, and will have to question how this will affect their productivity, even for the most suitable and, on paper, perfect-looking candidate.
So I hope I have convinced you that your elocution must not be ignored for success in the workplace. However, if all this seems a bit scary, let me reassure you. Firstly very few people are on the extreme end of the spectrum, and most could do with just some minor improvements. Secondly, all of this can be sorted out, without too much difficulty! It just takes the right guidance, and a little work and application. Good luck.
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