Develop Verbal Flexibility
By Delano Garner
In the modern global workplace, we deal with a lot of different people from a variety of backgrounds on a day-to-day basis. Men and women; people of different races, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds; introverts and extroverts; the list goes on. Verbal flexibility is the ability to adapt your communication style to the audience you're addressing while staying true to yourself and true to your values.
When we talk about verbal flexibility, we’re talking about vocabulary, semantics, and tone of voice. But there is a non-verbal aspect, too. Studies show that we communicate far more with our body language than we do with our tone of voice or even with our words. Slight changes in our stance, arm movements, and facial expressions convey a ton of information to our audiences. Don’t be overwhelmed by this fact; just reside in your truth at all times. At a minimum, your results will be honest, and you’ll have vital information regarding your direction.
Defining a communication style is a complex task because, for every different situation, we might have a different way of speaking. Think about how you communicate with a friend versus how you communicate with a business colleague. Are the words, gestures, body language, or even the handshake the same? Probably not (and they shouldn’t be).
Take this example: If you were having a conversation with a close friend about what new car you should buy, the discussion would have a particular tone with a specific vocabulary and a certain level of detail. Now pretend that you are networking with a potential client and the topic of cars comes up; that conversation is going to sound very different, and you're going to feel different as you speak to that person with whom you have a different type of relationship. Finally, imagine if all three of you were together having a conversation about cars; the conversation would be different yet again as you work to hold multiple perspectives and viewpoints. Being aware of this dynamic is how you can begin to improve your verbal flexibility. By thinking about how you communicate in various situations, you can apply intentionality to it, in a way that will allow you to take advantage of each situation.
There's also the idea of intent vs. impact. That is, how the impact of our words or actions may or may not coordinate with our original intention. For example, I might reach for an envelope on a shelf above my assistant's desk, and in doing so, accidentally step on his toe. I didn't intend to step on his toe, but I did. I had an impact (pain) that I did not intend. It's important to understand that every action has an impact, even if it's not what we plan. Likewise, other people are impacting us in ways they don't intend. Being aware and objective about the dynamic of intent vs. impact is an essential skill in the entrepreneurial world.
As I said earlier, an entrepreneur will always go at least one step beyond the expectations of others. This applies to improving one's verbal flexibility as well. It's a good practice to occasionally ask those around us whether or not they find it easy to communicate with us, or if there are ways that we could communicate more effectively. Not only will this help you improve your communication skills, but you’ll also endear yourself to your colleagues and peers by showing them that you respect and appreciate their feedback.