One Size Does Not Fit All

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

~ Anthony Robbins

One Size Does Not Fit All

By Loren Ekroth

During the holidays, we sometimes receive gifts that don’t quite suit us. Shoes or shirts don’t fit, music or books or clothes may not be to our liking. We may conclude that the gift-givers, while well-intentioned, did not ask themselves “If I were Susie or Bill, which gift would please me?”

In gift-giving, the ability to put yourself in the receiver’s shoes to find just the right thing is the sign of real thoughtfulness. Similarly, in conversation, the ability to be flexible and adapt is the hallmark of mastery.

A principle of interpersonal communication is that “Meaning is perception.” That is, what a receiver perceives from the sender determines the meaning of the message. To get your intended meaning across accurately, you must take into account how the receiver thinks and their level of skill.

Language choice

Skillful professionals are able to adapt their language when communicating with a variety of clients. An expert physician will find ways to explain complex medical issues without using terms the patient can’t understand. Instead, the doctor will use examples and analogies and even draw a picture to make the explanation clear.

Also, when adults talk to children, they may have to adjust and select simpler words already known by the child.

I have observed that some professionals are inflexible and seem to want to demonstrate how highly trained they are by using arcane terms unknown to their clients. The results are too often misunderstanding or not understanding at all.

Intercultural conversations

Here in Las Vegas, many residents are native speakers of Spanish. Often they have only basic skills in English. To create accurate understanding, it helps to slow down your rate of speech, use basic vocabulary, and speak clearly. Your failure to make such adjustments results in their failure to understand.

A funny example: Many years ago I was doing research in Bogota, Colombia and was visited by a senior professor from my university, apparently to provide needed guidance. I spoke passable Spanish, but he spoke no Spanish. When he couldn’t get a local to understand his English, he just spoke louder and louder. Of course, doing that didn’t work. What he really needed was a translator (me).

Talking to listening ratio

There are times to talk and times to remain silent.

Some folks don’t “get” this principle. For example, certain professionals like teachers and preachers are accustomed to talking. They are good at it. And they may be uncomfortable with silence. So their tendency may be to fill the auditory space with their own words at times when being silent and listening (or simply being present and paying attention if the other isn’t talking) is the wiser choice.

To be flexible, you must be able to manage the whole spectrum of talking and listening and be comfortable with the whole range. Otherwise you will stay within the small comfort zone of
your habits.

Rate and Volume of Speech

Similarly, there are times to talk slowly and times to talk rapidly, and times to speak quietly or to speak loudly.

To make the appropriate adjustments, your listener requires that you have both the skill to be flexible and the skill to assess the situation and the person you’re talking to, which is the skill of empathy – putting yourself in the other’s shoes. Both require mindful practice. They do not come naturally.

Even if we are talented with empathy, we almost never can know exactly how another feels. At best, we can get close. As Dr. Mardy Grothe wrote,

“People who say ‘I understand exactly how you feel’ never understand exactly how you feel.”

A diverse and multi-cultural society demands flexibility. Not only do we have differences in communication with age and gender; we also have many differences in ethnicity, nationality, and level of education.

So it’s best to make adjustments. After all, neither one size, nor one style, fits all.

From “Better Conversations” newsletter by Loren Ekroth. Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013. All Rights reserved. Dr. Ekroth is creator of information products to improve conversation, such as “Small Talk Success Tips” and a free newsletter at

Coaching Call To Action

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