Workplace Face To Face Communication Should Be About Meaning.


You’ve probably read, watched, heard and learned intuitively all sorts of good stuff about face to face communication.  I don’t want to challenge that. But I do want to remind you about one essential element. It’s often lost in all the talk about what to say and how to say it.

The Secret

Successful face to face communication is all about meaning. That’s it. And that’s especially so at work. That’s the purpose of the words, pictures, body language and the other communication elements. If we fail to convey our precise meaning, our communication has failed.

Thinking in Pictures

Decades ago I was a raw young trainer. To “teach” communication to front line supervisors my boss had a big chart which said “We think in pictures. We’ve communicated effectively when the picture in our mind is transferred perfectly into the mind of the person we’re speaking to”. Easier said than done, you might say. But it’s still true today.

Saying What We Mean

Many of us aren’t very good at saying what we mean. We may try hard. But sometimes we’re satisfied to transfer a picture that’s a bit fuzzy at the edges at best and quite indistinct at worst. Unknowingly, we forget that the listeners’ real concern is not with the words we use. The listeners’ prime concern is to understand  what those words mean. We use expressions such as “Couldn’t understand a word she said”, “What’s he saying?” “I’m not sure what he means” to express our concern. Listeners search for meaning all the time. That’s why gurus talk about interpreting body language, eye contact, social space, clothing and all sorts of non-verbal clues. They help listeners find meaning.

Some Useful Techniques

  • Speak clearly and distinctly.

Listeners will not tolerate speech that they can’t understand because of poor diction.

  • Avoid jargon.

Jargon is a “listener killer”. If you must use jargon, explain it. If you’re unsure whether your listeners understand technical terms, check with them first. And if jargon interferes with  your message, don’t use it.

  • Use clichés sparingly.

A cliché is defined as “an expression used so often it has lost its force”. I’ll “stick my neck out” and say that if you’re not “on the same page” as your listeners, you’ll have a “negative impact” on “the end result” if you overuse clichés.

  • Encourage questions.

I’ll go a bit further and add “when listeners want to ask them”. At the very least, let them know when they can ask their questions. If possible stop frequently and seek questions for clarification. I’m referring here to day to day conversation as well as announcements and presentations.

Speak To Express Not To Impress

Clarity is essential for effective face to face communications. Clarity of ideas leads to clarity of expression leads to clarity of understanding. It’s not unusual for listeners to be mightily impressed by a speaker’s words … but not have the faintest idea what the speaker means. That’s speech making. It’s not good face to face communication. It’s highly prized in many places. The workplace isn’t such a place.


There’s much more to effective face to face communication than I’ve covered. I admit that. You can make it as complicated and elaborate as you like. Or you can reduce it to its very core. Either way, understanding what people mean when they speak is still the essence of effective face to face communication. That responsibility is shared between speakers and listeners. But clarity is the prime responsibility of the speaker.

4 Responses to Workplace Face To Face Communication Should Be About Meaning.
  1. Anand Kumar
    July 8, 2010 | 4:15 pm

    Hi Leone,
    I really liked your simple way of writing, besides I do agree with practically all that you have said here. I will now like to go back to your other articles as well which, I haven’t so far. Keep up the good work.

    Best Regards,

  2. Marcus Sheridan, The Sales LIon
    July 9, 2010 | 12:29 am

    Speak To Express Not To Impress…..maybe the biggest downfall with communication in our society today. Great stuff Leon. Love the blog.

  3. Carl Garrett
    July 22, 2010 | 12:00 pm

    In the work force I manage, I have to deal with a lot of younger generation green horns. Its amazing how delicate they have to be treated until you get them molded in to a work ethic train of tought. They are not ready to work at the level we work they are used to “bed time” when they are tired.
    They are hard to teach and have to handled one on one until they learn. Most dont get it, and leave bouncing from job to job.

  4. Leon
    July 30, 2010 | 7:07 pm

    G’Day Carl,
    Thanks for your comment, I’ll reply in depth direct by email. But as a general rule, my experience suggests that you should look first at two areas: your selection practices and your on-job training. So many performance problems start with poor selection and and are intensified with inappropriate training. Try viewing the posts under “staff selection” and “training.”

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