Creating Messages that Get Heard


“Effective feedback is not praise or criticism.  It is carefully chosen language and actions that propel the learner forward.” Reggie Routman

Creating listenable messages

A big part of giving productive feedback is to create constructive feedback messages that people can hear. Below are some tips for creating productive messages for feedback.

Some of the listening challenges we all face would be diminished if speakers created listenable messages. Listenable messages are messages that are tailored to be comprehended by the listener (Rubin, 1993). While most of our communication is in an “oral style,” meaning spoken and intended to be heard, we sometimes create messages that are unnecessarily complex in ways that impede comprehension. Listenable messages can be contrasted with most written messages, which are meant to be read.

The way we visually process written communication is different from the way we process orally delivered and aurally received language. Aside from processing written and spoken messages differently, we also speak and write differently. This becomes a problem for listening when conventions of written language get transferred into oral messages. You may have witnessed or experienced this difficulty if you have ever tried or watched someone else try to orally deliver a message that was written to be read, not spoken. For example, when students in my classes try to deliver a direct quote from one of their research sources or speak verbatim a dictionary definition of a word, they inevitably have fluency hiccups in the form of unintended pauses or verbal trip-ups that interfere with their ability to deliver the content. These hiccups consequently make the message difficult for the audience to receive and comprehend. Remember back to the different between speech and thought rate, the more hiccups you have delivering your message, the more likely it is that the person listening to you will get distracted.

The strategies for becoming an active listener discussed earlier in chapter 3 will also help you mentally repair or restructure a message to make it more listenable. As a speaker, in order to adapt your message to a listening audience and to help facilitate the listening process, you can use the following strategies to create more listenable messages:

  • Use shorter, actively worded sentences.
  • Use I-Statements instead of You-Statements (“I want to show you…”).
  • Use lists or other organizational constructions like problem-solution, pro-con, or compare-contrast.
  • Use transitions and other markers that help a listener navigate your message (time markers like “today”; order indicators like “first, second, third”; previews like “I have two things I’d like to say about that”; and reviews like “So, basically I feel like we should vacation at the lake instead of the beach because…”).
  • Use examples relevant to you and your listener’s actual experiences.

Below is a wonderful 5 minute video from The Way We Work TED series about The Secret to Giving Great Feedback.   They provide a fantastic 4 part process that is brain centered for giving feedback in any difficult conversation.

Material in this chapter has been adapted from “Communication in the Real World” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


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Making Conflict Suck Less: The Basics Copyright © 2020 by Ashley Orme Nichols is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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