In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he reports that an individual needs to practice a complex task for about 10,000 hours before he or she becomes a world-class expert. He cites the Beatles, Mozart, Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and others. (Ability, luck, support from others and timing are also important for success.)
Generally, you can reach the 10,000-hour milestone after 10 years. According to a neurologist cited in the book, the brain needs that many hours to assimilate all the lessons from practicing a complex craft to reach a level of mastery.
What about the 10,000-hour rule in day-to-day communication? Most of us certainly spend the majority of our waking hours communicating – much more than the 1,000 annual hours for a decade.
Yet how come so few of us are experts? Yes, we have flashes of brilliance every now and then, some of us more often than not. But many of our co-workers, friends and families still complain about our miscommunication misfires.
Unlike the musicians, athletes and technologists, we probably aren’t taking our practice as seriously as we should. For example, to ensure we’re becoming better communicators, not just older communicators, consider following these 10 tips.
1. Know our intent, including what outcomes we want.
2. Put ourselves in others’ shoes to help us shape our message.
3. Rehearse what we’ll say and edit what we write.
4. Listen better.
5. Acknowledge what people tell us.
6. Question ourselves and others; be curious.
7. Tell more stories.
8. Work with a coach.
9. Match our words and actions.
10. Practice humility.
It’s ironic that a frequent excuse for not communicating well is not having enough time. We communicate many more hours than Tiger Woods (used to) play golf, yet few of us are on par with him. (Yes, bad pun intended for which I should get knocked down a few hundred hours.)
So be mindful about practicing. Eliminate wasteful communication. Make the hours matter and become a better lean communicator.