Expressing Opinions Clearly is a Necessity
Clearly expressing professional opinions is not a luxury in today’s fast-paced international business environment — it is a necessity. Expressing opinions effectively in one’s own native language can be difficult enough. So it’s not surprising that those using English as a second language are often not expressing their opinions as clearly and persuasively as they could.
The CLEAR method for expressing opinions, which I have evolved over the past decade of working with clients from a variety of cultures, provides a unique and practical approach to make the exchange of opinions faster, easier and more effective.
In addition to improving relationships and internal communication with foreign managers and colleagues, the CLEAR method can also be applied to communicate more effectively with external customers and clients from other cultures. It works equally well for both written and spoken communications, and can be readily adapted to your particular intercultural communication needs. While effective when implemented by individuals, the CLEAR method lends itself to group adoption. Establishing a shared standard for expressing opinions within intercultural teams, departments or companies avoids the communication trap of misinterpretation, which results in both mistrust and missed opportunities for future business possibilities.
Here is what each letter of the CLEAR acronym stands for:
Step 1 — C onvey your concise opinion
Step 2 — L ink to your listener’s concerns
Step 3 — E nact your experiences
Step 4 — A ssert your authority
Step 5 — R epeat your concise opinion
Can you say less and communicate more?
It is easier for a speaker or writer to be verbose than to be concise, in any language. It is also easier to figure out what you want to say while you are in the process of saying or writing it. That is a habit that I have observed consistently while working with clients in both Canada and France. So it does not surprise me that when people express their opinions in English as a second language, they say much more than they need to. In this case, saying more adds confusion, rather than clarity.
Also, what people call “preparing what to say ahead of time” usually means gathering together facts that they then organize in a way that they learned in the past. They often cannot even recall where or when they learned it. Step 1 addresses what to collect, instead of facts. Then how to choose what is most important out of what you collected and how to say what you chose in as few words as possible.
How is what you are saying in the first step relevant to your listener?
Your opinion, whatever it is, means nothing in isolation. It is only in relation to what your listeners want, need, fear or desire that your opinion becomes relevant. All of us are used to asking the question, “What do I want to say?” Few of us also ask, “What is relevant to the listener or reader?”
If you do not take the time to decide what is relevant and include it, what will motivate your listeners to keep listening to you? This is especially vital when communicating interculturally, since you cannot take for granted that people from other cultures share your assumptions about relevance.
While at first this can seem too complex an issue to deal with, I have shown client after client that they know a lot more about their listeners than they realize. They have already observed many of the things that I ask them to notice. However, they did not know how to include what they noticed when expressing their opinions within intercultural contexts.
In Step 2 I show you how to build a bridge between your concise opinion in Step 1 and what matters most to your listener. Once you become aware of the other side of this two-way street I call intercommunication, you will never again walk on only one side of that street. This is a step that will truly change your perspective on what speaking and listening in intercultural contexts is all about.
What story about your first-hand experiences can you tell?
Telling stories has been part of presentation techniques for decades. However, you will find that how I am suggesting you use stories in Step 3 is unique and that it is ideal for an intercultural context.
Telling stories is a universal phenomenon. We connect with other people easily when we are sharing stories of our firsthand experiences. That connection can happen within intercultural business contexts if you know how to use stories effectively to enact the opinions you communicated in Step 1 and Step 2.
This step shows you how to bring your opinions to life for your listener so that they will feel more engaged in what you are saying or writing.
What inspires listeners or readers to trust you?
How that question is answered depends on your cultural background. In the absence of shared standards of trust, what can you say to inspire intercultural trust?
We typically build our identities and inspire trust by the actions others see us taking day in and day out. However, within intercultural business contexts we often communicate with people who do not work with us regularly or who do not know us. Despite this, we expect them to trust us. But you cannot expect trust to be given automatically, especially within intercultural contexts. Trust has to be earned. I find that most of my clients either ignore the issues of identity and trust within intercultural contexts or realize that it is important but do not know what to do about it.
In Step 4 I show you how to assert your authority appropriately and consistently in both spoken and written communications, in order to build trust.
What effect does repeating your main point have on the listener?
The five-step CLEAR method ensures that your listeners are clear about your opinion, with each of the steps contributing to clarity in different ways. When you then restate your opinion at the end of the five-step sequence, your listeners will hear it differently than they did in Step 1. This step is not repetition for its own sake, but serves to bring your listeners full circle.
During the first four steps of the CLEAR method, you prepare your listeners or readers to hear your concise opinion differently when you state it a second time.
When you first express your opinion in Step 1, your listeners hear it with what I call their cultural ears. Also, the first thing listeners want to know is how your opinion meets their concerns, which you told them in Step 2. You then motivated them to keep listening by grounding your opinions with a story in Step 3. In Step 4 your intention was to earn their trust and participate in how they perceive you. With each of those steps you have been building a bridge to your listeners by walking on both sides of the street I call intercommunication.
By doing this you have changed how your listeners listen to you; this will ensure that your listeners’ interpretation will be closer to yours, when you repeat your concise opinion in Step 5. This final step of the five-step CLEAR method also serves as the foundation for the discussion or action that will then take place between you and your listeners.
There are several ways that your firm can immediately begin benefiting by implementing the five-step CLEAR method.
1. I wrote Dance of Opinions: Mastering written and spoken communication for intercultural business using English as a second language to replicate what I do in person with my clients and seminar participants. It is designed as a self-study method that expands the intercultural communication skills and intercultural insight of the reader. It is available as an eBook or in softcover print format. Both versions come with a complementary 80-page workbook in PDF format that can be downloaded and printed.
Dance of Opinions is available from Amazon and other online bookstores. To benefit from a bulk sales price for your department or organization, please contact me for further information.
2. As a seminar leader for the past 25 years, I have seen that while some learn well from a self-study method, others learn better when guided by an instructor and in a group. That is why I offer my one-day Dance of Opinions seminar in conjunction with my book. This interactive workshop ensures that participants are fully operational with the five-step CLEAR method. It also gives all participants the opportunity to ask questions about how to tune the CLEAR method to their individual needs. Each participant receives a copy of the book and workbook, which will help them to practice the five-step CLEAR method at work.
If you are interested in scheduling an in-house seminar for a team, department or organization, please contact me for details on availability and pricing.