A crisp baritone voice thunders across the silent expanse:

Command- ATTENTION!

Forwaaaard- March

Your leeeft, your leeeft, your left, right, left.
Your leeeft, your leeeft, your left, right, left…..

To the reaaar, March

Command- HALT!

One voice distinctly heard by hundreds of men and women marching in exquisite unison.

Nothing misunderstood. No missteps.

The ultimate display of effective communication.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could communicate in such a way that left no room for error or miscommunication?

It’s possible; otherwise, there would be no armies capable of marching in exact harmony.

It takes discipline to be an effective communicator much like the discipline I learned during my time in the Air Force. These lessons can be applied to both your professional and personal life; but in the high- stakes legal profession, clear and effective communication can set you on the path to “Aim high, Fly-Fight-Win” or leave you spiraling in a tail-spin wondering which end is up!

So, how can we learn from this military example and implement effective communication into all areas of our lives?

  1. Know your role.
  2. Know your audience.
  3. Be willing to adapt.

Know Your Role

THE SPEAKER– It is your job to convey a message. Do so with clarity and simplicity.   Pay close attention to your demeanor and tone; how you are saying something is just as important as the words you choose.  Approach your listener with respect and tailor your communication style to the person and situation. Delicate communications may need to be accomplished face-to-face from a place of compassion and empathy to avoid misunderstandings.

THE LISTENER– Is it your job to listen or to speak?  You really can’t do both- not with any level of expertise. If you are already formulating your response while the speaker is still talking- you aren’t listening!   The art of listening requires giving the other person your full attention by demonstrating your willingness to hear them through direct eye contact, facial expression, and body language.  Let the person finish their thought and be willing to gain clarification of the message received by reiterating what you heard and asking if it is correct. Be approachable, attentive, and prepared to understand; sometimes, it is in the unsaid that the real message resides.

Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience can be tricky; in our technology-driven world traditional means for communication have been forever altered. Gone are the days of waiting for a conventional letter to show up in the mail or hours spent on the phone catching up on the day’s events.   The modern workplace is made up of multiple generations; each generation has a “first” communication language. Take, for example, the following:

Traditionalist– Born before 1946, this generation communicates with a higher degree of formality in their communication style.   They much prefer face-to-face or written communication.

Baby Boomer- Born between 1946 and 1964, this generation values personal communication and would rather speak verbally as opposed to email or text communications.  Body language is essential to them, and open, direct, and honest interaction is appreciated.

Generation X– Born between 1965 and 1980, this generation grew up with the beginnings of technology, and they tend to prefer communicating by email.  If in-person communication is necessary, they prefer brief, informal conversations.

Millennial Born between 1981 and 1996 are the first generation to be raised using the internet from an early age, and they expect instant responses. Patience is not a virtue with speed and instant gratification their preference.

Generation Z– Born after 1996, this generation doesn’t know life without the internet- technology governs, and a large percentage admit to being addicted to their devices.

Let’s not forget about gender differences.  For many men, communication is a form of negotiation; they seek power in winning, problem solving, and offering advice.  For many women, communication is a form of relationship building, seeking understanding, and finding equality.  Women typically communicate with many words, and men tend to prefer to minimize their words.

Be Willing to Adapt

Being mindful of your role and audience is the first step to excellent communication.  However, being flexible in our communication style is the final element of success.  The ability to adapt to both gender and generational differences will facilitate a more harmonious exchange and lessen the chance of misunderstandings.  So, the next time your boss barks a curt demand your way- take a deep breath, smile and be flexible.  They just might have a different gender or generational communication style.

Final Tip:  Use your words wisely; in the workplace they can command lasting harmony or detrimental discord. Ultimately, the words you communicate will dictate how high or low you soar!

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