The Real Reason So Many People Are Such Bad Communicators

We tend to think of great communicators as great talkers. But as the bores and braggarts reveal, it's not the quantity of words that makes you a skilled communicator; it's the quality.
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From the anal-retentive drones whose PowerPoint presentations seem to last for weeks, to the overbearing braggart who can't stop telling you how wonderful he is, some people just aren't very good at communicating. You've probably also experienced the awkward silences, stammered replies and mid-sentence brain freezes that can stall a meeting, presentation or date. Some people err on the side of too much talking, while others err on the side of too little.

We tend to think of great communicators as great talkers. But as the bores and braggarts reveal, it's not the quantity of words that makes you a skilled communicator; it's the quality.

According to communication expert Alan Weiss, "People have a tendency to tell others everything they know," as opposed to just what the listener needs to hear. Weiss, a consultant who works with major corporations while mentoring consultants and professional speakers, is the author of "Million Dollar Speaking." "Ironically," he says, "people talk too much because they don't listen well. If you don't listen well, you start thinking ahead to what you want to say."

Sharing too much information lessens your impact, especially if you share it in big, long droning sentences, like the Charlie Brown teacher. Who hasn't been in a meeting where the loudest voices took precedence over the best ideas? Why do people let the over-talkers get away with it? That's where the under-communicators come in.

"People might not speak up in meetings because there are strong personalities in the room that they don't want to argue with or debate," says Weiss.

When people appear to be very opinionated, we assume that they'll defend that opinion, so we don't want to say anything that might counter it. But in many cases, it's a false assumption. Weiss cites the example of a strong CEO whose employees believed they couldn't disagree with him. The office scuttlebutt was, "Don't challenge the boss," but Weiss himself found that the CEO was actually very receptive to hearing conflicting arguments.

People don't speak up, according to Weiss, because they're afraid it will ruin the relationship. It's kind of ironic. You stay silent for fear of ruining the relationship, but what sort of a relationship do you have if one person is always biting their tongue?

Another reason people are often afraid to speak out is because they feel like they don't have all the facts. But as Weiss points out, you don't have to have all the facts to raise the issue. All you have to say is, "I'm concerned about this; can we discuss it?"

If you're a big yakker, it's hard to understand how someone could sit silently on the sidelines, especially if they have an opinion about something. As someone who struggles with the over-talker affliction myself, I often have to remind myself it's just as hard for some people to speak up as it is for me to shut up.

Here's the bottom line. The advice to over-talkers and under-talkers is exactly the same: Listen intently to what the other person is saying, figure out how you can add to the outcome and then tailor your message appropriately.

The more you listen, the more powerful and succinct you can make your own message.


Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author, columnist, business strategist and the president of McLeod & More, Inc., an international training and consulting firm. Her newest book, "The Triangle of Truth," was called "the ultimate guide for solving problems and managing conflict" and named a Top 5 Business Book for Leaders by The Washington Post . Visit for a short video intro.

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