Growing up, this was a question that I heard an awful lot. Whether it be from parents, teachers, peers or any other random individual, I would often hear the question “who do you think you are talking to?”, and it was not just me who was asked this question, I’m confident that most of the people reading this would have been asked it too, and probably asked it (or at least thought it) on a couple of occasions as well. Thinking back on this I’ve identified two things:
- This was never anything more than a rhetorical question. This is actually a statement. The translation is “don’t talk to me like that”. Trust me, the last thing that somebody wants to hear when they ask you “who do you think you are talking to?” is “You”.
- Most of us never actually stop to ask this quesion. Who do you think you are talking to? And more importantly, what is the significance of this?
I come from a background, and a culture where people hold onto ideals like; ‘stay true to who you are’, ‘don’t change for anybody’, ‘keep it real’ and ‘never forget who you are and where you come from’. These are ideals that I hold and feel that I live by, but I also feel that they are sometimes taken to an extreme that only serves to hold people back. When people change the way that they speak to suit their audience they are told that they are fake. When people change the way that they put their point across from one place to another they are told that they are two faced, or that they are acting.
Don’t change your message, but do adjust your delivery.
I, just like the vast majority of people, have a problem with the idea that people change what they claim to believe in depending on who they are talking to. What I do not have a problem with, and will in fact endorse at every opportunity, is people changing the way in which they present their message depending on their audience. If you talk to an infant child in the same way that you would talk to an adult, you will find that you struggle to get your point across. But this is also true of talking to people of varying degrees of experience, different backgrounds, professional roles, political opinions and the variables I could list are endless. For some reason, however, some of us believe that you should talk to every person in the exact same way regardless of who they are, or where you are. Maybe people fear that they will lose credibility if they do not exhibit the same behaviours in all situations.
What I feel we lose track of, is the purpose of communication. Any form of communication should serve a purpose. The question that we have to ask is ‘is it worth failing to get your point across, because you are unwilling to change your delivery method. At a moment in time where people will text their girlfriend, whatsapp their friend, facebook message the guy they went to school with, write a letter to the council and email their boss; why is it that we can’t grasp the concept that we must consider our delivery method when speaking?
This week I have said ” Yo brother”, “excuse me sir” and “hello mate” in almost identical situations, with people who couldn’t be any less identical if they tried. Isn’t that when communication becomes an art form. The conversations where allnconducted in a style of speech that is related to their opening and I managed to discuss a multitude of issues. To any outsider, these conversations may have sounded like totally different conversations, but all three people took this information from me:
- I think the weather in Birmigham over the last few weeks has been crazy, and I’m genuinely shocked by it.
- I feel like teaching is as important, if not more important than any other profession.
- I will be voting remain in the EU referendum.
They didn’t all agree with me, but I stood firmly by my opinions. My message never changed. But my method of delivery, the way in which I spoke, changed for each of these people. I didn’t feel like it made my points any weaker, it just made them more clear to my audience.
Goal driven behaviour
I could write an entire article on my thoughts around goal driven behaviour, but I will try to focus on what is relevant. So here is the key question: Why are you talking? If you are only talking because you like the sound of what you are saying, surely you can just think it in your head and not pollute the headspace of others with your thoughts. If you are talking because you have a message to get across, or because you want something to happen as a result of your words, then you must consider your audience. What you say is nowhere near as important as what they hear.
So ask yourself the question, ‘what I do I need to say and do to make the person understand my message?’ Or ‘what do I need to say to get the outcome that I am aiming for’. After all, what is more important; the things that you are saying, or the things that your audience are hearing? Don’t ever fool yourself into believing that they are the same thing.
Don’t spend a whole lifetime forming a view point, or an understanding of something, and then neglect to take the time to present it effectively.
Communication is not about what you want to say, it’s about the impact of your message.
With this in mind, always try to stop, and ask yourself…
“Who do you think you’re talking to?”