Finding the Right Time to Speak – Mastering that Interpersonal Communication Scenario
Should I respond first? We have been there before – you are seated in a group meeting, discussing an important issue when your boss asks everyone for their ideas. You pause for a moment, unsure if you should respond immediately. If you are the first to answer, you may come across as too eager. But, if you take too long to respond, your colleagues may think that you are slow on the uptake. What a dilemma!
Some of you may see this as a function of ‘culture’ – that for certain cultures/background, there is a tendency to adopt a more ‘timid’ style of communicating. Others may see this as an individual character trait issue or whether you are naturally confident. While we may not have the scientific answer for you, we believe that the correct response depends on the context. There are many factors that you can consider when deciding whether to respond immediately – here are three quick tips you can use for your next ‘scary’ meeting!
Tip #1: First to Speak is the Winner?
Is it always better to speak first? That may not necessarily be the case. Speaking fast may be an advantage, especially as an indicator of your knowledge and confidence in the topic being discussed. However, if done poorly, your fast response can result in an inaccurate response! You may have seen an impromptu speech setting before – a speaker who speaks immediately after the topic is revealed may come across as more frazzled or hurried.
Whether you are responding first or waiting for your turn, always aim to respond in a calm and composed manner. Take that initial pause at the outset to unpack and understand the issue or question in the discussion. If you need to clarify any aspect of the question, take that chance to show your sincerity in communication by asking those clarifying questions. Sometimes, a quick summary of the issue being discussed (“If I understand you correctly …”) can help calm your nerves and reassure the other parties listening to you.
Tip #2: Listen, Strategise, Respond
When is it a good time then to speak last? In some scenarios, the ability to bide your time and wait for an opportune communication moment is a treasured skill. Instead of diving headfirst into a challenging discussion, the primary tool you should rely on is active listening. In short, listen first before saying something! Remember that your main aim should be to provide an accurate answer (and not just a fast response!).
Beyond active listening, you may want that second pause to strategise your answers. In deciding if you should say something, look out for these three guiding questions. First, is your point value-adding? If you are merely repeating or agreeing with what was said, you may end up saying nothing new. Try to give new reasons, examples, or perspectives! Second, is your point relevant? In a moving conversation, the window to respond to a specific issue may be short. Remember to keep track of the conversation and know if the ship has sailed. Third, is your point necessary? Even if your response is relevant or value-adding, it may not be needed in that setting. Know when is the best time for you to deliver your response!
Tip #3: Leave the Door Open
Finally, remember to leave the door to further discussion open! In the adrenaline of responding fast, you may end up ignoring the other points or perspectives being shared. This is especially important in a discussion scenario meant for multiple perspectives to be heard. Even if you have listened, strategised, and structured your best response, there will always be room for the other participants to give their unique spin to the discussion.
Try your hand at these three communication tools that you can use to leave the discussion door open! First, create connection points in your response. If there is a related point raised or if you are adding on to a series of viewpoints, help to consolidate the points or connect them with the issue being discussed. Second, ask open-ended questions, especially if you are disagreeing with another person. Aim to understand first and refine your planned response. Third, know your disengagement points. If a discussion ends up with an echo chamber or disagreement trap, be that person who can suggest for everyone to take a step back and re-visit the discussion afresh. In that setting, your immediate response will add to the longevity of the discussion!
Think First, then Respond!
The question of whether one should respond first or wait may ultimately fall on the scenario you are encountering. That said, there is merit to the suggestion that a careful and composed approach is preferable to a rushed or messy response. The next time you find yourself in such a discussion scenario, try these techniques we have shared to help you decide!
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