This list of the 7 keys to being better understood is intended help you succeed more by helping you focus more on how you say something than what you actually say.

A fundamental intent of most of us is being better understood.  But, in reality, mutual understanding is a very rare by-product of communication.

Let me give you an example of a sentence taken from a recent article exploring the nature of human consciousness:

“Neuroplastic mechanisms relevant to the growing number of empirical studies of the capacity of directed attention and mental effort systematically alter brain function.”

Exciting?  Hardly!  In fact, most of the words you read barely register in your brain.  And, unless you specifically wanted to know something about neuroplastic mechanisms, you stopped thinking this after the first 2 words.

The fact that the words we actually speak barely register with the listener is not new science.  There is a lot of research demonstrating that the words we speak are the least important part of communication when you have face-to-face conversations with others.

So what should you do?  Try to focus on the list below when you talk to someone one-no-one or to a group of people in a presentation.

  1. Eye contact – try to look in people’s eyes and try to connect saying are you listening to me and do you understand me.  This eye connection is critical to effective connections.
  2. Kind facial expression – People want to be around other people that are kind and nice.
  3. Warm tone of voice – This may be difficult, but you should try to be welcoming and warm in your tone
  4. Expressive hand and body gestures – Don’t speak like your a statue.
  5. Relaxed disposition – Try to be relaxed first, then should come easy
  6. Slow speech rate – A key benefit of this is that the listener has more time to digest what you are staying.
  7. Brevity – My general rule is 2 sentences and than take a pause and see what the listen does.

Effective communication is based on trust, and if we don’t trust the speaker, we’re not going to listen to their words. Trust begins with eye contact because we need to see the person’s face to evaluate if they are being deceitful or not. In fact, when we are being watched, cooperation increases.

Eye contact increases trustworthiness and encourages future cooperation, and a happy gaze will increase emotional trust. However, if we see the slightest bit of anger or fear on the speaker’s face, our trust will rapidly decrease.

A key thing to remember here is that you can’t fake trustworthiness because the muscles around your mouth and eyes that reflect contentment and sincerity are involuntary.  Solution: if you think about someone you love, or an event that brought you deep joy and satisfaction, a “Mona Lisa” smile will appear on your face and the muscles around your eyes will soften.

The tone of your voice is equally important when it comes to understanding what a person is really trying to say. If the facial expression expresses one emotion, but if the tone conveys a different one, neural dissonance takes place in the brain, causing the person confusion. The result: trust erodes, suspicion increases, and cooperation decreases.

If nothing else, I would like to ask you take try and implement the last two keys, slow down and brevity.  When you speak, slow down!  Slow speech rates will increase the ability for the listener to comprehend what you are saying, and this is true for both young and older adults.

Slower speaking will also deepen that person’s respect for you, Speaking slowly is not as natural as it may seem, and as children we automatically speak fast. But you can teach yourself, and your children to slow down by consciously cutting your speech rate in half. A slow voice has a calming effect on a person who is feeling anxious, whereas a loud fast voice will stimulate excitement, anger, or fear.

One excellent way to help you slow down is to follow my simple rule, 2 sentences and shut up. When you construct a message try to figure a way to say it in 2 sentences and then stop and listen to what the audience thinks.

Try this experiment: pair up with a partner and speak so slowly that … you … leave … 5 … seconds … of … silence … between … each … word.  You’ll become aware of your negative inner speech that tells you that you should babble on endlessly and as fast as possible. It’s a trap, because the listener’s brain can only recall about 10 seconds of content!  That’s why, when we train people in Compassionate Communication, we ask participants to speak only one sentence at a time, slowly, and then listen deeply as the other person speaks for ten seconds or less. This exercise will increase your overall consciousness about the importance of the first 7 elements of highly effective communication. Then, and only then, will you truly grasp the deeper meaning that is imparted by each word spoken by others.