Humans speak their first fully-formed words sometime between 9 – 12 months of age. This is a major milestone, delighting our parents and launching children into the world of interactive communication. For the rest of our lives, words are the foundation of nearly everything we do. Taking full advantage of the possibilities of language can set job candidates apart in any recruiting and interview process, especially with smart communications tips in mind.
With language holding such importance in our daily lives, why are we so often inattentive to, and careless with, the manner in which we communicate? There are plenty of possible answers, but many of them relate back to two overarching themes:
- Thoughtlessness and impulsivity
- Talking too much
Thoughtlessness and Impulsivity
“Thoughtless” and “impulsive” aren’t character traits that most of us aspire to, but anyone can fall into these behaviors from time to time. The key to understanding what that means is to remove our cognitive bias: understanding that a thoughtless or impulsive reaction simply means we weren’t being mindful and instead simply reacted, leaving no gap between stimulus and response.
After all, hearing alone is not truly listening. Active listening requires temporarily setting your world aside and concentrating on the other person’s message and meaning, then evaluating and making decisions after fully absorbing the nuances of meaning.
Talking Too Much
Talking too much is all about math. It’s the law of probabilities at work – the more words used, the higher the likelihood that some of them will be regrettable. Using too many words when a few would suffice also greatly increase the chances the audience for those words loses interest and tunes out before understanding the message.
Words have enormous importance and can either strengthen bonds or fracture them. Candidates must navigate many interactions with many different people through the hiring process, and each encounter is a chance to use language to build bonds, give a good impression, and evaluate the opportunity itself. Being attentive to the details of vocabulary helps clarify communication and improve your chances of success.
Harnessing the Power of Language
To truly take advantage of the power of words, it is important to recognize that language and communication, like anything else, is something that can always be improved. The most successful people treat this as a craft they are honing continuously. Here are some suggestions to help you communicate clearly and effectively throughout the search process:
- Prepare Your Conversation
Before speaking or writing – and always before interviews – prepare yourself mentally in advance. What do you plan to say? How do you plan to say it? Speak it out loud so you hear how it sounds. This preparation period gives you the chance to hone both the actual words you choose and the volume of words you use. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Take the time to get your thoughts organized and make your language precise.
- Eliminate Unnecessary Words
Great communicators are masters of efficiency. They don’t waste words or use words that diminish the meaning of a sentence. Consider these sentences that probably sound like ones you’ve said many times: “I just wanted to get an update on the project status.” “I just wanted to offer some thoughts on this.” Prefacing statements with “just” diminishes the importance of the communication in question, as well as the confidence of the person sending the message. As you meet with your potential employers and colleagues, look for ways to avoid these filler words that hinder meaning. Other words that fall into this category include “really,” “quite,” and “literally.”
- Say What You Mean
“Being direct” gets a bad reputation, often as the refuge of those who wish to say even unnecessarily harsh or cruel things without consequence. In reality, one can absolutely be direct in a manner that isn’t unpleasant. Being direct while still being respectful conveys confidence. It positions you as authentic and transparent, while also saving time and reducing the risk of being misinterpreted. Consider the above two examples stated directly and without filler: “I want to get an update on the project status.” and “I want to offer some thoughts on this.” Those are much stronger statements and come across much differently in the absence of “just” one word. As candidates for executive roles, it’s important to convey a sense of authority and authenticity, as well as an understanding of the power your words can hold simply by virtue of position.
- Use Simple Words
A master of brevity and wit, Winston Churchill once said, “Short words are best and old words when short are the best of all.” Simple words are sharp, clear and to the point. Our brains, eyes and mouths don’t struggle with them. In today’s attention-deficit world, with so many competing demands on everyone’s time and attention at all times, simple, easy-to-remember words are a competitive advantage. Avoid the temptation to get bogged down with jargon during interviews; after all, executives must be able to communicate effectively with employees at every level of an organization.
- Use Bullet Point Theory
Even the most experienced candidates can get tongue-tied in high-pressure situations. Thinking and communicating around a small number of bullet points can be extremely helpful for warding off that anxiety and keeping you on track. Concise, prepared bullets are mental anchors that can keep candidates from drifting too far off-track from the main point, allowing for effective communication even through the nerves.
- Practice the Two-Second Rule
This may seem like a wildly simple technique, but it can be effective for everyone from first-time job seekers to seasoned executives. The idea is simple: count silently for two seconds before replying to something that’s said to you. There are several benefits to this practice, one of which is to allow yourself a moment to formulate a response – enough time to avoid an ineffective response or one that misses the key point you hoped to highlight.
A University of California, San Diego study estimated the average American consumes over 100,000 words every day. The ambient noise level in our lives has never been higher, and communicating effectively and making a lasting impression can feel like an enormous challenge. With the right words and communication strategy, you can turn yourself into the candidate that everyone remembers.