Communicating for your audience

posted in: Communication | 0

A good writer should write for their audience and so it is with our verbal communication. We should speak for our listener, not ourselves. I’ll give you an example. My grandmother is 99 years old in two weeks time. She has had a bit of trouble with her hearing aids so I took her to have them checked out and tuned up.

The hearing technician fiddled with the aids and then asked me to ask Gran a couple of questions. “What are you having for supper tonight,” I asked from across the room. Gran could hear some of what I said but not all of it. I could see she was frustrated. She said she was worried that the problem was her and not the hearing aids because she is constantly being told “it’s your age.”
The technician explained that with age, our cognitive ability to process what we hear slows down. It’s not that we can’t understand what we are listening to, but it takes a bit longer for the words, and by default the message, to get through.

It dawned on me that in order for my Gran to hear me better and for both of us to be less frustrated, all I had to do was to talk a bit more slowly. I needed to adjust the speed of my conversation in order to meet her needs.

When we speak to young children we will often temper our language, tone and speed so they understand. It is no different with the elderly, except we must do it with respect for their intelligence and a life filled with experience. We should speak to them as peers.

It’s the same with foreigners. Have you noticed how some people speak to them? They shout (why do we assume that the volume of our voice will make people understand what we are trying to say) and they will often mimic the accent to some extent. They will slow down their language and resort to simplified words as if the hearer is stupid. We know our listener is neither deaf or stupid yet we can’t help ourselves.

This way of speaking is called foreignese -a simplified version of a language that is sometimes used by native speakers when addressing non-native speakers. It is often patronising and in most instances makes the speaker look ridiculous.

So like writing, we should speak with our audience in mind. Let’ s remember to speak to the elderly, to foreigners, to our colleagues and family with the respect they deserve.Remember, good communication is when the receiver reads or hears the intended message. The onus is on us to deliver our message with our audience in mind.


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