Back to Basics blog post header. letters strewn across table.

By: Doug Self

In 2017, when my wife and I learned we’d be welcoming our first child, we dove straight into research mode. We read the books, listened to the podcasts, followed the parenting social media accounts, devoured anything we could find to ensure we did everything “right.” Spoiler – there is no guidebook. It simply takes time and practice for everyone to learn to interact and communicate with one another. As our daughter has grown into her own person, communicating with her effectively has been a crucial skill that we continue to hone to ensure we build and maintain a balanced, mutually respectful relationship.

She recently turned four and is more engaging than ever, full of spirit and ideas as she shapes her world. These ideas come with questions, very specific instructions as how to play the game she is making up on the spot, and strong opinions – all of which she is learning to communicate to everyone in her life. This process is often coupled with a strong dose of four-year-old frustration. On the parent side of this two-way street, modeling the correct behavior is our most effective way to help her build her own interpersonal skillset. So, instead of relying on tired parenting standards, I’ve been both surprised and pleased to find myself leaning heavily on the basics we employ as professional communicators to ensure our message is clear and effective.

For me, the takeaway has been clear: no matter your audience or method of communication, ground yourself in the basics. Here are a few of the tried-and-true principles I rely on both in and out of the office:

  • Use simple language
    • Channel your inner Hemingway and use base-level vocabulary. We can all use a thesaurus and there is no prize for using more syllables.
  • Listen!
    • Seriously, take a moment and just listen. People will often tell you what you need to know, usually with little probing, if you give them an opportunity.
  • Answer questions before they are asked
    • In most scenarios, you’ll probably understand your audiences’ concerns and can address them on your terms while owning the message and the tone. Bonus, your audience feels like you understand them, helping to build trust and rapport.
  • Keep your cool
    • Consistency builds trust in your message. Nobody wins when emotions are elevated. Stay collected, in control, and confident.
  • Meet them on their level
    • With my daughter, this often means physically getting on her level. In business, match your audience. Are you using language they understand and connect with? Does your dress, demeanor, and tone match the situation? Remain authentic, but your message will land effectively if you remove barriers to understanding.
  • Bring it back to your primary message
    • When the conversation veers off track or is wrapping up, bring it back to your message. A passive “okay, dad, got it” while running away to play didn’t land my ask of not running into the street, I need to repeat it and make sure that she knows that’s the important part. Similarly, if asked for final thoughts or if you have anything to add at the end of a panel, interview, or Q&A, “No” is the wrong answer.

This is, as with most recommendations, advice for most of the time and not all the time. There are situations when “juxtaposition” is more effective than “contrast” just like there will be times when a measured, consistent tone doesn’t get the job done. Make those times the exception and keep yourself grounded in the basics. Provide yourself a cornerstone to build upon and whether you are testifying in front of Congress or negotiating a bedtime routine, your message will be understood.