Make Nice! Know Their Needs and Speak Their Language

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The other day my husband and I were negotiating the upcoming Saturday. He had a memorial to attend, I had an all-day seminar, and my son had his weekly soccer match. My husband asked if I could take our son to soccer. I said, in my blunt-New-Yorker-get-to-the-point manner that no, I could not: I had an important seminar to attend. I had been planning this for weeks and paid for it.

I proposed we both attend our respective commitments and hire our sitter to take our son to the game. He was not comfortable with that (our son has diabetes and can have blood sugar issues when active) even though she had taken him previously when needed. He preferred to skip the memorial and attend the game. I tried to sway him but he refused.

Well…a number of days later, the real story came out, as it often will. My husband was  annoyed at my “rudeness” around the matter. He felt I responded as though my interests were more important than his. His midwestern sensibility processed my “efficient problem solving” as insulting, and he held a grudge about it.

“What could I have done differently?” I asked.

He said, “You could have said, ‘Let me see if there is another date for the seminar,’ or ‘Let’s see if there are any alternatives. Maybe we can work something out.'”

That seemed pretty silly to me since I knew there was no other date and I couldn’t imagine any other alternatives. And that’s the point of this article. It isn’t silly at all. And it’s something I teach my Presentation and Communications Coaching clients: for the most effective and positive reception, speak to your audience in their language, and show them you care about their needs and interests.

You’d think I’d be able to apply that to my 12-year marriage. But as they say, we save the best behavior for those we love most. I’m glad I at least recognized it after the fact.

For my husband, and most everyone I can think of, it’s important to have one’s needs and interests validated. In my husband’s case, simply acknowledging he wanted and needed to go to the memorial would have been a good start. And finessing my refusal a little would have made him feel a lot better. Introducing an atmosphere of cooperation and of working towards a common goal would have made his needs feel important, even if the outcome were the same.

In writing a presentation, it is crucial to build your content around your audience’s needs and interests. You would be well-served to bring up any concerns you know they have — make them explicit and acknowledge their importance — so your listeners feel understood and appreciated. You are building a connection that way.

In terms of speaking the language of the people you are talking to, I should know my husband’s style and language by now, and address him accordingly. He tends to beat around the bush when necessary, if it helps calm choppy waters or makes someone feel better. If I had wanted smooth sailing on the issue, I should have communicated with him according to his language and style.

In a presentation, if you don’t address your audience on a level or with language they can take in, your communication is diminished. Using jargon they are unfamiliar with, speaking too technically to a non-technical audience, or giving too much detail when a bigger picture message would be more useful, all decrease the likelihood that you will be understood, attended to and remembered.

Here’s an opportunity to learn from my mistakes; don’t wait until your next presentation. Let people know you understand and appreciate their needs and interests, and speak in their language. You’ll find a much more receptive audience on the other end of the communication. And no grudges held.


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