Are you sabotaging your message?

Even when you have a clear, compelling message that will resonate with your audience, you can still prevent it from getting heard. Why? Because you’re human. And humans have habits.

Whether you’re giving a presentation, participating in a meeting, or simply having a conversation with a coworker, you may have habits that prevent you from getting your point across.

In fact, I was recently on a Zoom meeting when one of the participants dropped his pen. He exclaimed loudly in frustration, which distracted everyone from the conversation. Other participants thought he was much more upset than he was, even though that was just his style. It was difficult for them to ignore his behavior and listen to his message.

Other distracting habits include fidgeting, sighing, chewing while talking, being too passionate or dispassionate… the list goes on. So, what’s a person to do?

Here are three things you can do to ensure your natural habits don’t sabotage your message:

  • Use a Message Map.
  • Get help from friends and colleagues.
  • Listen to yourself objectively.

Always use a short Message Map

While a Message Map won’t cure you of your habits, it will help you stay focused and enhance your chances of getting your point across.

You don’t need to create a full-blown Message Map. A short home message with three supporting points is usually all you need to prepare for meetings. It’s worth the few minutes it takes to quickly sketch out.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re going to a meeting to decide whether your company should exhibit at an upcoming industry trade show. You’re in favor of participating, and you need to persuade your executives.

Your short Message Map could look something like this:

Using a Message Map can increase your chances of getting heard.

You can make a Message Map this short in just a few minutes, and it greatly increases your chances of getting heard in the meeting. It forces you to focus first on the benefit to the company and avoids over-explaining or letting your personal views affect your argument.

Get help from friends and colleagues

While using a Message Map will help you stay focused on your message, it won’t get rid of your habits. Habits are tough to fix because they’re just that – habits. You’re so used to doing them that often you don’t even realize it.

So, pick a few people you trust and ask them to tell you if you have habits that distract people from hearing your message. Most people will be honest with you, to ensure you focus on fixing the right habits.

I have a habit of speaking to people in my house when I’m in a different room than they are. They can’t focus on what I’m saying, so I don’t get my message heard or my request granted.

Luckily, my partner told me that it annoys him, and now I’m working on fixing it (there are post-it notes on the walls of the rooms I usually call from to remind me to get up and walk into the room where the people are).

Listen to yourself objectively

Once you know what habits are interfering with your communication, record yourself during moments when you’re likely to fall into the habit. Then listen to it later, so you can hear yourself how others do.

This step can feel frustrating, since we’re usually more critical of ourselves than our friends are of us. Be patient with yourself. According to experts, it takes 30 to 60 days of true focus to break a habit.

Once you break your habit, you’ll find that it’s easier for people to hear and adopt your message. Test this with your friends again to make sure it’s working.

Getting your message heard is crucial for career success. If you have habits that are sabotaging your message, use a Message Map, work with friends and colleagues, and listen to yourself objectively to break habits that keep you from getting heard.

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