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Say what you mean and mean what you say: A negotiation specialist on how to communicate more effectively

Three keys for clarity and revamping your vernacular

March 05, 2018

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

We've heard it time and time again, communication is key. And although the words we use carry a lot of weight, we're all a little guilty of overusing some of them or not quite articulating as clearly as intended. To make things more complicated, popular communication theory says that only 7% of our message is conveyed from the words we choose! It also says that 38% comes from the tone and a whopping 55% of your messaging is conveyed by body language. But if you don't have the luxury of body language (hello everyday life, social media and email!) then you need to be especially careful about the words you're using. Because so much communication is digital nowadays, it's a skill we could all work on. So to help us take our vernacular up a notch, negotiation specialist Fotini Iconomopoulos stopped by The Goods to explain what words deserve a rest, how to revamp emails and how to get our point across more effectively by simply watching what we say.

Don't be afraid to assert yourself


Fotini says that word choice can even impact credibility, and might make your boss think you aren't as confident as you might actually be. The good news is that it is possible to change, you just need to learn to be aware. Specific types of words can cast doubt and take away from your message whether it's in an email, text or during face-to-face conversation.

For Fotini, the answer lies in making declarative statements. Many of us may shy away from them because we don't want to be seen as too assertive or aggressive and opt for statements like "I think" or "I believe instead." But Fotini pointed out that these words can sound uncertain and too subjective. Try out "It seems that..." instead. That will help make your statement sound more objective. Common culprits such as "just" and "maybe" can make it seem like you need to justify why someone should give you attention. These are words that give up power and take away from your authority and can even impact how people perceive your confidence and credibility in some situations. These phrases are so frequently used, it may be hard to see their impact right away. But swapping them out for more declarative words will make your communication more succinct – and help to better convey that confidence of yours!

Take time to proofread those emails

Conveying tone over email can be a bit of a communication nightmare in a world where things are increasingly digital, and we aren't always present to make sure our message is delivered correctly. Fotini recommends taking a moment to proofread an email for gratuitous words before you hit send. The emails shown above are an excellent example of a before and after email makeover. Fotini removed some of those extra words we might use when we're nervous. She also removed the word "just" and included a call to action, so instead of waiting for the other person to respond to the message and then set a time, the person is asked in the initial message, speeding up the process.

Edit your vocabulary

There are some popular words that have snuck into almost everyone's vocabulary these days that aren't actually helping us out. These words pictured above appear more in conversation than in written form but can really muddle our message when we're trying to get our point across. We know it can be really hard to stop using them, though! Fotini suggests that you practice speaking more clearly and directly by speaking with friends the same way you would in the boardroom. This is because it's much easier to train yourself to speak well in both environments than it is to go back and forth. As with all communication, awareness is key, so ask your friends to tell you when you've used one of the unnecessary words  and you could even make a game of it. She also recommends recording yourself on your phone, which can help you work toward creating that awareness and you'll be able to press the mental "pause" button instead of the "like" button. And if you (like many of us) find yourself saying "like" a lot, try quietly pausing instead.

Here's a challenge from Fotini: spend the next week or two paying more attention to the words and sayings that she said to avoid. Make a conscious effort to proof your emails for clearer communication and you'll be surprised by how effective your action-based words may be. There is no downside to sounding more credible, no matter what your environment looks like at home or at work. Clearer communication is a bit of a linguistic art, and it's a skill worth honing!