Carol Fleming doesn’t traffic in platitudes. While your favorite self-help authors and television hosts promise to help you get everything you want by “following one simple rule of communication,” Fleming, who’s been in the business of teaching people how to communicate for the better part of a century, rejects the idea that there’s a quick fix that will turn you into a titan of clarity and assertion.
The thing about communication, Fleming says, is that there is no “one size fits all.” If someone had asked her, for instance, to deliver a lecture on how to speak well and be heard to a crowded conference, she assures me that she would have to turn that opportunity down. Why? Because trotting out a few old chestnuts and motivational cliches would be an exercise in futility; it’d be like selling snake oil.
Fleming tells me all this while we’re sitting across from each other at a small desk in her office. The narrow table is equipped with an iPad (which she uses to record her clients) and a clipboard on which she sketches out the history of communication for me, starting with the grunts and cries of cave men and stretching into the future.
“Boom!” she says as she slides her pen off the paper and points it at the ceiling. “That’s the internet.”
I nod dutifully every time she makes such a proclamation, worried that she’s about to reveal some listening technique that I’m doing wrong, but Fleming is kind. She wouldn’t dare critique me, she says, unless I had come in with a specific problem. And even then, we’d discuss my problem and how it’s affecting my life in depth before she could start helping me with exercises and homework assignments.
Fleming’s speech, by the way, is extraordinary. The flow of her words is slow and even without being soporific. Her voice never raises. And you can tell when she’s passionate about something — like when it comes to making it clear that there’s no panacea for better human interactions — because of the content of her message rather than the fervent yearning that often creeps into our voices when we’re desperate to make a point.
Even though Fleming is opposed to giving me (or you) any quick fixes when it comes to speaking better and making yourself heard, she offered some indispensable advice that you must absolutely follow before you venture out into the wild world of human interaction.