3 Follow-up Questions to be a Better Communicator

“Repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer” is one of my favorite quotes from the book, How Google Works. It’s from the chapter intriguingly entitled, ‘Communications – Be a Damn Good Router.’

Eric Schmidt and Jonathon Rosenberg go on to write – in one of the most compelling paragraphs in their book –

“In most aspects of life, you need to say something about twenty times before it truly starts to sink in. Say it a few times, people are too busy to even notice. A few more times, they start to become aware of a vague buzzing in their ears. By the time you’ve repeated it fifteen to twenty times you may be completely sick of it, but that’s about the time that people are starting to get it.”

Communication seems to be the thorn in almost every leader’s side. I have yet to meet an organization where communication is considered a strength. Instead, it’s consistently cited as one of the most prevalent challenges. It’s the Achilles heel of many, especially as a company starts to scale and grow.

Curing the ills of poor communications requires discipline and a persistent attention to detail that drives many entrepreneurs crazy.

However, there are 3 simple questions that will help you be a more effective communicator. In addition to following Schmidt and Rosenberg’s advice about repeating something 20 times, these questions ensure that crucial information gets through to your team and colleagues.

  1. “What did you hear?”

    It’s generally acknowledged that we only hear about 20% of what someone shares when we’re giving our “full attention.” Human beings’ “speaking speed” is about 150 words per minute. Our brains can process anywhere from 350 to upwards of 500 heard words per minute. That’s a LOT of white space to fill and our brains do exactly that.

    You leave a lot to chance if you’re not asking this simple question. After sharing information in a meeting (or even one-on-one) check to see what they’ve actually heard. If you’re sharing particularly important information, have them write it down. Then get them to share. You’ll get more honest feedback and you’ll get the introverts to share too. Added bonus? The act of writing it down will help their retention.

  2. “What do you need clarification on?”

    Don’t ask the proverbial, “do you have any questions?” It’s one of the most useless questions to ask if you want real feedback. Instead, dig for information. Probe their understanding by asking what is still not be clear to them. You can also reframe this by asking them what they think others will have questions about.

    Again, having your audience write their one question down is another good technique here. Sometimes asking, “take out a piece of paper and write down what’s one thing that I talked about or that we covered that you want more information around?” will elicit a better response and will help you, as the communicator, see where some of the gaps in understanding are.

  3. “What’s your one takeaway from this conversation or meeting that you’ll communicate to others when they ask?”

    Don’t leave communication with the rest of the organization to chance. You certainly don’t want to contribute to “whisper down the lane” errors in the information that is shared. Ensure that the message is clear by asking your audience to tell you what the major theme is or as one of my clients says, what are the “talking points”. And to be truly effective, don’t rely on email. To be able to check how your message was received and what was received, a voice to voice (if not in person, on the phone or a conference call) is critical to ensure that you don’t have a communications breakdown.

Use these 3 questions over the next 30 days as a “trial.” I guarantee that if you use them religiously, you’ll become a better router too!

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