How to Get People to Understand Your Message

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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When we meet with potential clients, the first thing we hear is, “If we could all just communicate effectively, we could accomplish anything!”

Most people feel the same way— that the number one problem they have in their organization is a lack of communication skills.

But what people think is a lack of communication is often something else entirely. Unresolved conflicts, unequipped or untrained team members or even employees who are unable to perform their jobs correctly can all disguise themselves as poor communication issues at one time or another.

The solution is for leaders to determine when communication is the cause of the problem and how to avoid the mistakes that limit effectiveness.

Here are the critical leadership skills that you need to practice and refine to determine if communication is the cause of any people problem:

Are You Talking, or Are You Connecting?

Communication is based on two elements: how one delivers a message and how the receiver processes it. If you fail to get your point across effectively, you fail to get the other person’s attention. When this happens, the communication is incomplete. The receiver does not receive the message you intended to send, much less process it and act on it accordingly.

As an example:

  • How many times have you encountered people who talk too slowly or too rapidly?
  • People who provide too much detail or not enough?
  • Do you hear them?
  • Do you process their messages?

When the method of delivery is just too confusing or boring, you may be physically there but mentally gone. As your conversation partner is on autopilot, your attention wanders to what you’ll do next. When you find yourself wondering when the person speaking to you is going to finish their speech, the two of you are not connecting.

Fine-Tune Your Delivery

Miscommunication occurs when one person doesn’t deliver a message in the same manner as the other person processes it. As we see in the example above, some of us deliver our thoughts more rapidly than others. On the other end, some receive the messages more slowly.


When a disconnect in communication occurs between yourself and members of your team, the results can be disastrous. If you don’t hear their messages, you will not take any action to remedy whatever their problems are, and this can erode the trust you may have established.

After this, they will think twice about coming to you with questions or concerns. They may feel alienated, leading to a lack of trust and motivation. In time, this “simple” case of poor communication can impact a whole organization.

It’s Not Just What You Say; It’s How You Say It

Many managers do not know how to communicate, much less how to teach their employees to do it effectively. Reactive managers are known to deliver messages the way they operate the cruise control on their cars: at one speed, in one way, with no deviation. In other words, they use the communication method they like, and they stick with it.

But when you communicate to others on cruise control, you will connect with only a certain percentage of the population you’re trying to reach. Instead of everyone hearing your message, it will come across only to those who process it the same way you do. This way, the cruise-control approach limits your opportunities to connect with a large and varied audience.

Real-Life Examples

Imagine a salesperson who can communicate with only a small percentage of his clients – only those who are exactly like him. Imagine how much more productive he would be if he could adjust his style of communication so that a wide variety of customers could understand his pitch.

Consider the team members you work with who don’t respond to what you have to say. How could you package your communication to make it more understandable to them?

Action Plan

  • First, take a look at your pace or at how rapidly or slowly you speak.

This is the first element that determines whether or not your message gets heard. If you’re talking too fast and the people you’re addressing can’t keep up, they miss your message. If you’re dragging it out, they’ll become bored and lose focus.

By slowing down or speeding up your speech, you can be assured that as many people as possible will process your message.

  • Second, communicate your message based on priority.

Decide whether you open up a conversation with front-wheel people topics or back-wheel task topics. Managers have been trained to be on the back when they have something to say. They stick to communicating only the subject matter.

This makes the message more palatable for those team members who process facts and figures but comes across as too intense for those of us that process a social exchange and a lighter, upbeat message.

What it comes down to is that people are actually a lot like computers: We need the right input to make a successful connection.

  • A person who processes people-oriented phrases needs a social exchange in order to connect.
  • A person who processes task-oriented communication needs to hear just what’s expected of him.

If either of these types doesn’t receive the right pace and priority of communication, they will tune out and disconnect from the conversation.

You won’t know you have an error message until people don’t follow through on the outcome of your conversation. That should make a difference in how you communicate with others.

How Can People Understand Your Message?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • doug mayblum says:

    Thanks for the wisdom, Dr. Whitaker. Your points are very interesting. Forty years ago I was a frightened young manager who thought I must know everything in order to effectively lead. Once I realized that its ok NOT to have all the answers I communicated that openly to my team. Allowing them to see your weaknesses opens all sorts of communication doors. Being authentic is a major step toward communicating effectively.

  • Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Hi Doug, Thanks so much for your comments and sharing your real life experience. All the best to you! MK

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