Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Why smooth talkers are less effective

Life's unfair like that: the smooth-talkers always land the better jobs, so the sentiment goes.  Their credentials are typically not the best but they know how to impress in the face-to-face encounter: smart clothes, white teeth and eloquent speech peppered with the right jargon gives them an air of sophistication and dynamicism during the interview.  And too often interviewers lap up these unsustainable, unrealistic self-portrayals fed to them.

The smooth-talker is not a programmer, he's an application architect; he doesn't merely solve problems, he re-defines strategic objectives; he doesn't increase profit, he unlocks value and creates synergy; he doesn't cut costs, he streamlines processes.

Besides the possible lack of honesty inherent in many smooth talkers, a potentially larger peril lurks when hiring one such person: Over-communication.  Of course communication's important in the workplace, but over-communicating can be worse than insufficient feedback.  In a real-life work setting one has to explain things quickly and simply because time is scarce in any organization. Moreover you will often find yourself explaining your work to people from diverse vocational backgrounds.  I was taught that when explaining to anyone you must assume the other person is uninitiated: what you say must make sense to a man on the street.  Such simplicity is typically lost on someone that speaks in high volumes.

What do most people do when a renowned big talker engages them at work?  They nod their heads in acknowledgement pretending to listen but switch their attention off.  For all the excessive information and unnecessarily complicated terms they're forced to hear, they don't query anything they don't understand - they just want the conversation to end.  This amounts to a breakdown in communication where little useful information is exchanged.  More confused than ever, the recipient/victim then tries to find out what they need to from other colleagues or their own research, which in turn wastes time.

Smooth talkers are beacons of confusion because they can't use simple English and feel exposed if they cleanly lay the truth out.  They're just not used to playing things straight.  They can be useful when dealing with third parties if you want to confuse or dazzle them during something like a negotiation, but internally within your own organization they end up having little efficacy with colleagues.

Society readily associates good communication with a person who has verbal diarrhea, speaks loudly and uses impressive terminology.  The reality though is you need to hire one who is economical with words yet doesn't leave anything important out, while assuming no prior knowledge of those they engage.

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