The Right Type of Speech is Everything in Communication

Business is, at its core, a social activity. One party provides something that the other wants, and through a dance of implicit and explicit negotiation, the other party accepts -- or not. It’s a voluntary exchange built on the communication of needs.

You’re probably quite a bit better at selling, networking, and negotiation than you were when you started out. You might have read some great books or attended useful seminars, but the bulk of your development likely came from practice. Unless you’re oblivious to interactions, the more you do it, the more your expertise grows.

Understanding how to speak optimally -- and how to listen, which we’ll get to next time -- means smoother, happier interactions with everyone. We focus on determining a business’s unique needs and then finding a professional employer organization who can meet them. That takes communication between us and the client, us and the PEO, and eventually facilitating an exchange between the client and the PEO. The whole system succeeds because we take communication seriously.

So, how can you accelerate that development to get more out of your business relationships? Enter Mortimer J. Adler, communicator extraordinaire.

Adler’s “How to Speak, How to Listen” is written in a professorial style of a bygone era, but its lessons stretch all the way back to Aristotle -- and as cheap, powerful devices like incredible mobile phones and tablets make communication ubiquitous, those lessons are more relevant today than ever. The first step toward boosting your speaking skills, advises Adler, is to recognize that there are three basic modes of speech.

‘Rhetoric’ Isn’t Just an Academic Subject

The first type of speech Adler details -- and the type that makes up the bulk of our communication with each other in the workplace -- is “rhetoric speech.” In short, it’s all the talking we do that isn’t meant to be persuasive or instructive. Rhetoric sounds boring, but we’re in bad shape without it.

Recognizing rhetoric speech in business is, in part, realizing that it’s not one of the other two types. Think about your relationships with your business, and think about the other people you know. That knowitall who grinds your gears? He’s engaging in instructive speech when he should be cruising through rhetoric speech. That salesman who you know is capable of great things, but whose results are middle of the road? He likely needs to venture into persuasive speech and avoid rhetoric speech.

It’s usually obvious when we should be persuasive or instructive. It’s not always as obvious when we shouldn’t be. If we think about our interactions and conversations, we can all make a too-long list of the times we’ve gone the wrong route and been worse off for it.

Make that list. Come up with as many instances of you engaging in something other than rhetoric speech when simple, straightforward talking would’ve been a better option. And detail the effects of that, too. Seeing how it adds up will demonstrate how this basic distinction on communication strategies really plays out in your business and your career.

It’s a simple thing, this recognition of rhetoric -- but categorizing it in your own mind helps you choose the right approach for your employees, professional peers, customers, and the public. That communication is everything for us, and it’s everything for you, too.

Rodney Steele