We live in a digital, shorthand world, where COO (cool), IDK (I don’t know) and WBU (what about you) have become familiar phrases to the texting majority of our society. Generation X’ers comment in dismay when our children and grandchildren communicate with each other via texting, while sitting across the table from each other. What’s more troubling is that it’s affecting the way our culture functions and how business gets done — or doesn’t.

As meeting and event planners, we are champions of the power of live, face-to-face communication. We may, in fact, be one of the last frontiers for this form of dialogue and, as such, it is critically important that we understand and practice effective verbal communication every day. A decade or so ago, when webcasting was first taking off, meeting planners everywhere feared that live events (and their livelihoods) would soon be extinct. Today it’s clear that no webcast, or social media, can create shared experiences to rival live ones.

The absence of this level of connection is telling. There is a lack of unity, shared goals and empathy for others, as well as greater sense of isolation, resentment, misunderstanding and mistrust. It’s most confusing in those “gray area” conversations that occur daily in our personal and work lives. These guidelines should help us all practice effective verbal communication every single day.

Use verbal communication as your primary form of communication when:

  1. There is a problem to be solved. Problem-solving by its nature requires collaboration, exploration of alternatives and various scenarios. Verbal communication is the best way to create consensus on the solution. Email chains, copying everyone in the process, are confusing and lengthy, which frustrates most participants, and ultimately ends in one individual deciding without true consensus, leaving other participants feeling less vested in the outcome.
  2. Your intentions need to be clear. Verbal communication is more than words. It involves inflection, intonation and body language. So many times In emails, texts or other written media, the meaning is so often lost without these extra components. Haste can sound like irritation or frustration far too easily. It’s even worse when the recipient assumes it is irritation or worse, a personal attack, and a full-blown misunderstanding is under way. This has happened to most of us at some point. When it does, the go-to response needs to shift from an email reply to picking up the phone, or even better, walking to the other person’s office and saying, quite simply, “I didn’t quite understand your email. Can you tell me what you meant to say?”
  3. You need to build a relationship or generate change. Communication of facts, data, timing and process usually doesn’t require verbal communication. But closing the deal, hiring the next employee, affecting a cultural shift in the organization, networking with peers or launching a new product does. The reasons may seem self-evident, but we hire vendors or employees and follow leaders we like and respect. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to create that rapport any other way.

It’s even more critical that this sort of verbal communication come in some form of dialogue. This means listening as well as speaking. In fact, one of the well-known red flags in the process not hire a potential supplier or sales person is if they talk more than they listen or ask questions.  Along these same lines lies the pitfall of many executive presentations. Executives historically have decided what they wish to tell their audiences, without empathetic consideration for what their audience wants and needs to hear – what’s in it for them.

Bottom line, verbal communication is effective in almost all circumstances, but only necessary in a few. The choice is up to us, but a smooth, productive relationship with our peers, employees, clients and suppliers depends on knowing the difference.

Next: MBEC 33.02 — Communicate in writing

See all 33 skills you need to be an effective planner.