Connect better by being yourself
“How can I be authentic, and – at the same time – adapt my communication style to suit my audience?” *
Well, you’re probably already doing it…..
Imagine bumping into an old friend and greeting them enthusiastically. You then realise they’re upset. Most of us would shift our communication style immediately.
In this month’s blog, Creative Coaching's Melissa Mehta explores how to enhance this natural rapport-building capacity. We can then better connect with our audience while remaining true to ourselves.
Years ago some Chinese clients taught me a lesson. Early in our conversation, I noticed they were staring at my hands. I’d started gesticulating. They were still, and reserved in their energy. Our connection was faltering.
I noticed this mismatch and adapted. Fortunately I’d had some practice. At school, my physics teacher would challenge me to answer questions while sitting on my hands. This slowed me down, forcing me to use vocabulary for colour and emphasis.
Becoming more aware of our natural style, and playing with our range, is key to flexing to the needs of the listener without ‘putting it on’ or being inauthentic.
Here are some other ways to stretch our rapport-building muscles.
Record yourself speaking or (if this is too cringe-worthy) have someone give you feedback on the following. You will become more aware of your natural approach to….
This is how much your voice goes up and down (moves between high pitched and low pitched) when you speak.
There isn’t a ‘right way’.
For example, a monotone can quickly become dull and hypnotic, or emphatic when use sparingly. Alternatively a rising inflection (beloved of Australian soaps) can be irritating and undermining of the speaker, or indicative of consensus building.
Singing is a great way to develop intonation awareness. It stretches the range in which we feel comfortable.
Doing some simple vocal warm ups can help (especially when alone and silent before a meeting). Humming a sliding note from low to high and back again, or even singing a favourite song, warms up our vocal muscles.
For more structure (with the calming effects of breathing exercises thrown in) I love this app
Dynamics refer to how we use loudness and softness. High contrast between speaker and listener creates a connection glitch.
Dynamics can enhance what we’re saying. We might speak more loudly to make a point “This is where we need to place our attention!” or more softly to create a sense of intimacy “not many people realise this…”; or curiosity “I wonder if you’ve heard about….”.
Variation in dynamics can attract attention, so if the listener is flagging - adjust the VOLUME. Keep this variation within reach of your conversation partner’s range.
If someone speaks unhurriedly to another who races along, it feels jarring. We can influence more effectively if we match the rate of our listener.
For those with a leisurely speaking (and often thinking) pace, hitting the accelerator is challenging. To mitigate possible listener impatience, hit the key point early. Stay high level, and avoid the meandering, detailed route.
For those who need to slow down, there’s often a reliance on filler words (like, you know, um, er). Faster talkers often feel uncomfortable with silence and tend to fill it. Here’s an exercise to wean you on to authoritative pauses.
Place two chairs, side by side, separated by a couple of chair widths. Stand behind one of them. Start speaking (about something easy - eg where would you like to go on holiday and why?). When you reach the end of your first sentence, stop speaking. Step sideways, in silence, until you’re standing behind the second chair. Say your second sentence, stop and move back in silence. Repeat.
This method desensitises us to the silence and s..l..o..w..s.. u..s.. d..o..w..n.. Speaking with the pauses (without the chairs) gives an audience time to catch up with our thinking.
Masters of prosody (intonation, dynamics and speed) include children’s TV presenters. Watch CBBC for a masterclass in maintaining vocal variety to draw in the audience.
Also have a play around in low stakes situations (chatting to the cashier at the supermarket). If you usually have an exclamatory ‘Hello!’, then try out a lower pitched, conspiratorial “hello”. Make a request at the coffee shop more rapidly/slower paced than usual.
Observe the effects of your experiments. How does your energy and their energy change? What reinforces connection and what disrupts it?
Alternatively, find a small child and offer to read them a story. They will give you instant feedback on how connected you are.
The more your stretch into a wider natural style, the greater range of prosody you have to call on, to match and engage your listener while still being yourself.
If you try out any of these ways to enhance your rapport-building, we'd love to know what effects you notice.
*This is a question frequently asked by participants in our Communicating Compelling Messages workshop.
Photo credit Priscilla du Preez at Unsplash
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