Getting Your Ideas Across
By Brian Tracy
Over the years, I’ve learned that fully 85 percent of
what you accomplish in your career and in your personal life will be
determined by how well you get your message across and by how capable
you are of inspiring people to take action on your ideas and
You can be limited in other respects - by education, contacts and intelligence - but if you can interact effectively with others,
minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour, your future can be unlimited.
There are two major myths about communication that must
The first myth is that because they can talk, they can
communicate with others. Men especially, according to the research,
think that by speaking louder and faster, they’re more effective in
dealing with people. Many people think that because they have the gift
of gab, because they have no problem talking to others on any subject
that comes to mind, they’re good communicators.
Often, exactly the opposite is true. Many people who talk
a lot are often poor communicators - even
terrible communicators. Many people in sales and business think that
being able to string a lot of words together in a breathless fashion
makes them excellent at getting a message understood by others.
However, in most cases, those people are seen as boring or obnoxious,
or both. The ability to
communicate is the ability both to send and to receive a message. The
ability to communicate is the ability to make an impact on the
thoughts, feelings and actions of someone.
The second myth about effective communication is that
it’s a skill that people are born with. Either you have it or you
don’t have it. If you’re not extroverted, gregarious and outgoing,
you don’t have what it takes to be a good communicator.
Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a
bicycle or typing. It takes time and practice, over and over. But if
you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of
every part of your life, as you will soon see.
Communication requires both a sender and a receiver.
First, the sender thinks of an idea or image that he or she wishes to
convey to the receiver. The sender then translates the idea or image
into a form, or words, either written or spoken. Those words
constitute the basic message that is transmitted to the receiver. The
receiver catches the words, like a baseball player catches a baseball,
and then translates the words into the ideas and pictures that they
represent in order to understand the message that was sent.
The receiver then acknowledges receipt, and replies by
translating his or her ideas and pictures into words and transmitting
them to the sender. When the message has been sent and the receiver
has acknowledged receiving it by transmitting a response that the
sender receives, accepts and understands, the communication is
If this sounds complicated, it is. Probably 99 percent of
all the difficulties between human beings, and within organizations,
are caused by breakdowns in the communication process. Either the
senders do not say what they mean clearly enough, or the receivers do
not receive the message in the form in which it was intended.
An enormous number of factors can interfere in any
communication, and every one of them can lead to a distortion of the
message in some way. Probably every problem you’ll ever have will be
somehow associated with a failure or breakdown in the communication
According to Albert Mehrabian, a communications
specialist, there are three elements in any direct, face-to-face
communication: words, tone of voice and body language. You’ve
probably heard that words account for only 7 percent of the message,
tone of voice accounts for 38 percent of the message, and body
language accounts for fully 55 percent of the message. For an
effective communication to take place, all three parts of the message
must be congruent. If there is any incongruency, the receiver will be
confused and will tend to accept the predominant form of communication
rather than simply the literal meaning of the words.
Very often, you will say something that you feel is
innocuous to a person and he will be offended. When you try to explain
that you felt the words you used were inoffensive, the person will
tell you that your tone of voice was the issue.
The third ingredient of communication, body language, is
also very important. The way you sit or stand or incline your head or
move your eyes, relative to the person with whom you’re
communicating, will have an enormous effect on the message received.
For example, you can dramatically increase the effect of
your communications by leaning toward the person you’re speaking
with. If you’re sitting down, this is easy. If you’re standing up,
you can accomplish the same effect by shifting your weight forward
onto the balls of your feet and leaning slightly toward the person
you’re talking to. When you make direct eye and face contact with
the person, combined with focused attention, you double the impact of
what you’re saying.
So your choice of words is important, but even more
important is your tone of voice and your body language. The better you
can coordinate all three of those ingredients, the more impact your
message will have, and the greater will be the likelihood that a
person will both understand it and react the way you want him to.
You’ve heard the saying that God gave man two ears and
one mouth, and in conversation, you should use them in those
proportions. Truer words were never spoken. The best communicators are
excellent listeners. The worst communicators are continuous talkers.
In fact, often the most important part of the message is the part that
is conveyed by the pauses you make between thoughts and ideas. The
message is conveyed in the silence that takes place during the lulls
in conversation. All master communicators have learned to be
comfortable with silence. Remember that a person can absorb only a
certain amount of information, as ground can absorb only a certain
amount of water. If you pour too much water onto the ground, it will
form into puddles instead of soak in. A person’s mind is very much
the same. If you don’t give someone an opportunity to absorb what
you’re saying, by pausing and waiting quietly and patiently, he will
be overwhelmed by the continuous stream of thoughts and ideas, and
often will distort the message and miss the point.
One of the most vital requirements for effective
communication, especially with important messages, is preparation.
Preparation is the mark of the true professional. The late Coach Paul
“Bear” Bryant of the University
football team was famous for saying, “It’s not the
will to win but the will to prepare to win that counts.” In all
communications, the will to prepare in advance of talking and
interacting with people is the key to achieving maximum effectiveness.
Remember that in communicating, people do things for
their own reasons, not for yours. Everyone’s favorite radio station
is WIIFM, which means “What’s in it for me?”
The more important the communication, either in business
or personal life, the more important it is to prepare for it. Think
through where the other person is coming from. What is his or her
point of view? What are his or her problems or concerns? What is he or
she trying to accomplish? What is his or her level of knowledge or
information about the subject under discussion?
In getting your point across, perhaps the most important
word of all is the word ask. The
most effective people are those who are the best at asking for what
they want. They ask questions to uncover real needs and concerns. They
ask questions to illuminate objections and problems that people might
have with what they’re suggesting. They ask questions to expand the
conversation and to increase their understanding of where people are
really coming from.
You get your message understood by getting out of
yourself, by putting your ego aside, and by focusing all of your
attention on the other person. You get people to do the things you
want them to do by presenting your arguments in terms of their
interests, in terms of what they want to be and have and do. You
prepare thoroughly in advance of any important conversation. You think
before you speak, and you think on paper. You can say almost anything
if you say it, or ask it, pleasantly, positively and with courtesy and
The ability to communicate is a skill that you can learn
by becoming genuinely interested in people and by putting their needs
ahead of your own when sending a message or asking them to do
something for you. When you concentrate your attention on building
trust, on the one hand, and on seeking to understand, on the other
hand, you’ll become known and respected as an effective communicator
everywhere you go.
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