Try ‘Playing a Character’ to Beat Communication Fatigue.

Communication skill is a muscle, and like a muscle, it takes time to strengthen.

Muscles fatigue as you work them and honing your communication skills is no different. So what should you do if you experience communication fatigue when working on changing your communication style?

Let’s say your communication goals involve reducing the use of fillers such as ‘um’ and ‘like’. Or speaking with greater volume when you’re naturally very quiet. Both of these examples represent deeply ingrained communication characteristics. And these kinds of habits can unwittingly creep back in to your communication even when you’re singularly focused on avoiding them.

If the idea of being hyper-focused on avoiding fillers all the time, or speaking loudly throughout your entire workday seems daunting, it is. One communication ‘hack’ to try and counterbalance feelings of fatigue is embracing the notion of ‘playing a character’. And only playing this character when necessary.

In theatre, the phrase, “extraordinary circumstances” is sometimes used to describe the experience of playing a character onstage.

Think about it. You have to speak words someone else has written (the playwright) and make them sound as if they’re your own. Now add in doing this under hot lights. With people staring at you in the dark. And you need to be heard in the very back row. When you add it all up it’s quite a tall order. And this certainly isn’t how we typically move through our day. Hence the term, “extraordinary circumstances.”

Let’s think about the character of Lady Macbeth. Any actor playing her certainly knows on an intellectual level they didn’t commit violent acts. Yet the performer still has a responsibility to convince the audience they helped in the murdering of a King. So, within the specific circumstances of the play, they must suspend who they are for a brief period in order to embody someone completely different from how they operate in everyday life. Of course, unless they’re Bill Hader in Barry.

Think about the “extraordinary circumstances” in your professional or personal life where it’s important for your communication to be at its sharpest and clearest. During a meeting with your boss? Pitching your new company to a potential investor? Even a serious conversation with a family member can demand a different approach.

Think about the “extraordinary circumstances” in your professional or personal life where it’s important for your communication to be at its sharpest and clearest. During a meeting with your boss? Pitching your new company to a potential investor? Even a serious conversation with a family member can demand a different approach.

Any circumstance where the stakes of the conversation are higher than normal calls for making the strongest communication choices possible so you can make the best impression possible. Set an attainable goal: just for the five minutes you’re sharing an update during your company’s town hall will you play a different version of yourself. The version that speaks in a strong, powerful, and supported tone. Then when you get back to your desk you can relax back into your comfort zone.

How you feel on the inside may not align with how you seem on the outside (and that’s a good thing).

Once, after helping a soft-spoken client increase her volume during a group workshop, I asked this client to share her experience finally speaking at full voice. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Why would I want to scream at people?” I immediately turned to the dozen or so other people and asked if they felt she was screaming to indicate this by a show of hands. Not one hand went up.

It’s important to acknowledge that ‘playing a character’ to help you embrace a different communication style may trigger feelings of being fake or forced. This is when a trusting outside eye such as a friend, colleague or communication coach is key. They will encourage you to move past feelings of doubt or discomfort standing in your way of making the best impression possible.