Lean Communication: How to Be Understood All the Time

Too often, we leave conversations feeling like we didn’t get to say everything we wanted to. In his book, “Talk Lean”, international communication trainer, Alan Palmer demonstrates how to overcome this. Here are our key takeaways.

Think Lean

When in a conversation or meeting, rather than waiting for other people to address what you want to say, open by stating what you want. To do this, a little beforehand, it could help to think ‘What do I hope will happen at the end of the conversation or meeting?’. Thinking like this will help keep you focused and ensure you don’t leave the conversation with more left to say.

Be Mindful of Others

Avoid using irony and rhetorical questions as these can shut others down. Moreover, only speak from your own point of view. For example, saying ‘I disagree with you’ is less threatening than saying ‘You are wrong’. Moreover, to make sure you really take in what others are saying in a lean manner, try taking notes of what they say as they speak. Keep note that these should be using their words, not yours, so as little as possible is misunderstood.



Use Your Language Wisely

Although subtle, your use of tenses and pronouns can have a big influence on the impression you give to others. For example, using the past tense and ‘you’ is less threatening than using the present tense and ‘I’. ‘What did you mean by what you just said?’ is better than ‘I don’t understand’.

Of course if you want to sound more forceful, using “I” with the present tense is preferable ie. ‘I like’, ‘I want’. And of course, if you’d like to show others you’re open for collaboration, try using inclusive pronouns ie. ‘we’ and ‘us’ to say things like “what do we do from here?”

Make Sure You Were Understood

Before moving on to another topic, it’s important to check that others knew what you meant. You can do this by simply asking ‘What do you think of what I said here?’ or ‘What did you think of the meeting?’. Although it may seem like an unnecessary use of your time, its a great way to keep your conversations as lean as possible. After all, it’s better to clarify immediately than risk being misunderstood and have to repeat yourself later on.



Sarah Chung

Raised in Hong Kong, now living in New York. A serial optimist, I love finding ways to improve to enjoy life even more.