The Art of Conversation - Something Worth Talking About

10/04/2011 08:11 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2011

Our ability to make our words count is key. Much of a leader's credibility and power is primarily based on perception, and much of perception is based on communication -- what we say and how we say it. Making your words count -- ensuring that you get the attention and respect you deserve when you speak -- is one of the 7 Sticky Floors and ultimately critical to your success.

Giving lots of details, talking about how we feel about a situation, trying to involve everyone in the conversation does not always lead to actions that produce results as effectively as being more direct and succinct in our speech, because people are busy, their minds are already filled with information.

What's more, the perception created by our communication style often establishes our level of credibility, affects our ability to influence decisions, and ultimately determines whether or not we are invited into the inner circle -- the key to the Executive Suite.

Enhance and capitalize on your communications skills by exploring some important guidelines for fine-tuning how you communicate at work:

Make Your Words Count. Be a person of few words. Be on point. Sometimes less is more to exude competence and authority and get people to listen to you. Be succinct. Provide context, facts, and rationale in your messages. Quantify things. Percentages can be powerful. Also, own your message; come back to your key points before ending your conversation.

Know Your Audience. Do your homework before talking with someone. Understand what they want to hear and not hear. Be relevant. Learn what the other person's preferred style is, such as directive, expressive, or analytical and then adapt your style to get on their channel. Pay attention to others' views and perspectives; ask questions. Hearing others and incorporating their views into your plan is really the most important tool to getting key stakeholders on board with your agenda.

Become a Good Translator. The key to being value-added when you brief an executive is to be a translator of the data and make the linkages to drive home the key messages or recommendations which matter most to him or her. Demystify the content by using simple words and communicate by using examples or stories that they will remember.

Slow Down. People are often eager to make a contribution at a meeting or in a conversation, yet they don't take time to listen and understand what is going on around them. Don't be too quick to jump to an assumption or say no. Ask questions, step back, get the bigger view, and then come back with your views/thoughts. Remember it's sometimes wise to listen first and speak second. Actively listen and be able to pick up on the cues around you. Only 7 percent of communication is verbal. Hear intonation and watch body language to pick up on what people are really thinking, despite what they may be saying.

Speak Up. It is never wise to speak out just to be heard; however, if you have something valuable to say -- speak up! Act confident, balance emotion with logic, present relevant facts and information, time your contribution, and have good information at your fingertips to back up your perspective. I've always felt that you don't want others to interpret your view. It's better that you deliver your intention, position, and perspective. Remember that speaking up means being receptive and responsive to questions, critical analysis and commentary on what you are saying and resist feeling defensive.

By mastering these conversation techniques, your words will be more meaningful, have greater impact, and produce better results. You also will be able to talk your way out of a sticky situation and right off the sticky floor that's been holding you back from moving up in the organization.

Learn more about how to Make Your Words Count as well as tools and techniques for addressing the Sticky Floors at SHAMBAUGH's "It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor" Forum in San Francisco on October 5th or Women In Professional Services (WPS) Program in Washington D.C. this Fall!

Rebecca Shambaugh, President and CEO of SHAMBAUGH and Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, author of "It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor," www.shambaughleadership.com