Have you ever had one of those days where no one seems to understand a thing you are saying? Do you find yourself wondering, “What’s wrong with everyone today?” If so, that might be the wrong question. Instead of wondering what has others off track, do a basic communication self-check and see if you’ve let your messages get cluttered with poor communication habits. It’s easy to do, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. In fact, cluttered communication is a genuine problem with a serious impact. In this three-part series we will take a look at a few common “communication clutter bugs” and talk about how to spring clean for fresh and effective results.

Rambling. This is a particularly pesky communication habit because it is both unproductive and highly irritating to others. Rambling generally occurs for one of three reasons:

  • We forgot where we were going with the conversation, so we just talk … aimlessly.
  • We have a head full of minute detail about a topic that is fascinating to us, so we feel it must be fascinating to others as well.
  • We are exhausted.

What’s hidden from us as we are rambling on and on—yet strikingly clear to our audience—is that we have lost self-awareness (or we are rude, so let’s hope for the first).

There are two simple steps to stop rambling in its tracks: First, don’t get lost in your own head. Remaining engaged in the dialogue requires paying attention to your audience and noticing if they glaze over, yawn, or nod off. Second, learn to interrupt yourself. “Excuse me, I realize I am rambling,” works fine. So does, “I am spending too much time here; let’s talk about …”. Or even, “We have gotten off track; let’s refocus.” Those words will delight your struggling listener who will immediately and happily re-engage with you on the matter at hand. If you find yourself rambling often, you may have an informing language style, and gaining some insight and clarity about directing and informing language patterns could be very helpful for you.

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Clarity. Life has sped up (or so it seems), and the speed of our thoughts has moved right along with it. Recently I was observing my three-year-old’s evolving language skills, and it seemed that he had started stuttering. He was an early talker and has a great vocabulary for his age, so I was a little alarmed at first. Then I realized what was happening: His brain was moving faster than his mouth. He had all of these thoughts that he couldn’t quite get out so he would sputter, skip some others, and repeat himself until—in his mind—he had said all he needed to say.

I have to laugh as I see this happen all day long at work—only it isn’t so cute in this context. In the rush of trying to get it all done, too many of us don’t think through our messages. We just blurt it all out and sometimes it sounds like my three-year-old—or worse, my bossy four-year-old. When we take a few extra seconds to think about what we want to say, then we compose and execute more succinct, thoughtful, and actionable messages. These extra seconds not only eliminate confusion, but they have the added bonus of ensuring we don’t interrupt others and create a poor impression.

In next week’s post, learn the power of “no” when I share some tips for de-cluttering your to-do list with powerful and positive declines.

To learn how to improve communication skills with a positive no, check out the next article in this blog series.