04 Sep Every Good Communication Deserves a Plan
Norton scheduled a meeting with a colleague to seek support for a change he wanted to make in a current project.
At the meeting, Norton began to explain his idea, stressing the benefits, and his colleague seemed to be attentive. Then she reminded him that a recent change in another project had resulted in schedule changes and lost time. Norton’s idea involved no schedule changes but she seemed so concerned about that feature that he began to explain to her why those changes had occurred, and why he thought they could have been avoided. A lively discussion of the other project followed, and before he knew it the meeting was over.
Norton had not finished explaining his idea and he didn’t have support for it. He left the meeting feeling confused and frustrated. What happened?
Norton got sidetracked.
Ava had a similar experience when she tried to clarify a bill with the accountant at her gym. During the conversation the accountant brought up complaints that Ava had made in the past and Ava spent the rest of the conversation explaining and defending those actions. The meeting ended with the account saying she had to go, and suggesting that Ava come back another time with her question.
Another case of sidetracking.
Planning for conversations like these may seem unnecessary, but it helps us stay on track, and a plan can be simple. Here are some steps that would have helped Norton and Ava:
1. Know what you want to happen at the end. Norton wanted a statement of support, but he might have been satisfied with a list of concerns that his colleague wanted addressed before she signed on. Ava wanted the accountant to fix the billing issue, or even to acknowledge that a question needed answering.
2. Recognize how much time you have for the conversation. A 30 minute chat allows for much more conversational wandering than a 10 minute meeting.
3. Know what your main point is, and list the supports you have for that point.
4. Organize your statements according to how much time you have. You might have to summarize some of your points for the short meeting. When you’re speaking, you might even number the points as you make them to help you both stay focused.
5. Anticipate possible detours.
6. Have ready a statement that discourages the detours. “Yes, we should talk about that, but let’s finish this first.”
7. Close in a productive way. If you see the end approaching, refer to your main point and ask for closure.
Not all speaking situations have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but if you are speaking for a purpose, you will be better served if you do some advance work for that purpose.
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Share your sidetracked experiences with us and tell us what you do to stay on point.