While penning a note Mark Twain once said, “I would have made this note smaller, but I didn’t have enough time.” Notice the humor? He knew that to convey a message with fewer words, it actually takes more time. What’s your communication style? Do you express yourself with many words (like the U.S. Constitution), or few words (like the Gettysburg address)? Is most of your communication over cell phone or by email? Sometimes the very act of making a cell phone call can be a trick bag full of communication difficulties. Heaven forbid the caller is getting in an elevator. I like to think that communicating effectively is simple, but not easy. It’s simple to rattle off an email or say what’s on our mind in a manner that only we may understand, but not easy to communicate our points succinctly and clearly so that readers and listeners understand what we’re saying, especially, given the vast array of different communication mediums used in business today.
Are communication skills important in business? It’s a silly question to be sure; however, just how important is communicating effectively? Could it be the most important variable? The answer may surprise you. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, recruiters are taking a different look when choosing from the hoards of uniquely qualified job applicants. Of course, students with high GPAs who matriculate from prestigious colleges are attractive candidates; however, more and more, applicants with developed communication skills are considered the most hirable, regardless of their alma mater.
Generations ago, one would sit and carefully craft letters longhand by the glow of a candle. Now, we communicate with cell phones. Our conversations are continually interrupted by static and dropped calls. Since I (apparently) speak too loudly (just ask my wife), I often find myself speaking more softly on the cell phone, so I didn’t bother anyone Who knows if the other party can even hear me? It’s not just verbal communication; written communication is more challenging these days. We routinely send a quick email without much thought. Do you ever hit the send button too quickly? Do you ever use that fancy feature in Microsoft Outlook where you try to retrieve a sent email? Been there and done that!
With all the different ways to communicate it might be said that communicating effectively has become harder, not easier. It’s a challenge, but a skill necessary to master. Improved communication skills will help you cross the finish line with your customers! The results: happy customers who want to do business with you.
Here are some tips for better communication:
- Understand the difference between correspondence and communication – treat them differently.
Too often, we treat correspondence like communication. For example, a buddy recently received a Happy Thanksgiving email – how impersonal! How does the expression go again — it’s the thought that counts? Obviously, the sentiment is from the right place, but could be more effectively echoed with a phone call or a greeting card. The sender probably sent the same email to his entire address book. Savvy people (and not so savvy people) can see through that. At the very least, send each email individually.
Correspondence has become an over-used crutch in business today. Everything is email. Triumphantly, each day, we shoot off email after email and act like we are accomplishing something. My colleague, Mike, suggests that the power of the written word is the most effective tool. A born connecter, he eschews email introductions, opting instead for a brief conversation to introduce people to each other. Start communicating with your contacts and customers. Don’t be a “desk jockey.” Get out there and break bread with face-to-face meetings.
- It doesn’t always have to be about you – be interested in others.
Just before I sold my business, a salesman sent me a short email saying that one of our stores looked great and was busy with heavy Super Bowl traffic. His thoughts were brief and I was happy to receive them. Did he have to send a card or make a call to say that? No, that wasn’t necessary. It was best to send an email. He shared positive news out of the blue. It was nicely done. I love when people include a little “smiley” face in their emails. A neighbor of ours owns a large manufacturing company. He finishes every Friday afternoon email off with a smiley face icon. I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating. Email is so impersonal. This smart executive is adding a little life to his communication. It goes a long way.
Effective communicators spend less time with paperwork and more time listening to their customers and associates. Cheer for others. Be interested in their success. Applaud their achievements. As Jeffrey Gitomer (2006) said in The Little Black Book of Connections,”The question you have to ask yourself is: How can I make people better as a result of connecting (or knowing) me?”
- Talk to hear yourself talk – listen to your written words to see how they sound.
Always read your emails and memos out loud. Try it! Your words will actually have a different ring to them. The benefit is that by doing this, you will more closely simulate what your readers will hear or see. Typically, when I take this step, I find things I want to change. Read between the lines. Will your meaning come across the right way? If you’re unsure, revise and experience the thrill of discovering a better way to get your point across.
Remove useless phrases and clichés. Avoid superlatives. Our readers know that we think our products and services are “extraordinary!” and “super-special!” Avoid this unnecessary noise. Your writing will be clearer and more persuasive.
- Say it right the first time – prepare to create a meaningful first impression.
We all know the significance of making a great first impression, but it’s actually more important and carries a lot more weight than most think. Turns out, we typically make a decision about someone right away and then conform our thinking to fit the decision we’ve made. People typically make snap judgements and those sentiments end up sticking.
How you dress also communicates. Dress appropriately for meetings. I remember once a young sales guy came to a meeting dressed in a sport coat, jeans and a ratty old t-shirt. I’m sure he looked good on Friday night out with his buddies, but he wasn’t dressed appropriately for a business meeting. It would have been fine had he worn a simple button down shirt and khakis, a sign of respect for himself and for those with whom he wanted to communicate. Later, I asked someone and learned that his opinion was “If my prospects don’t want to do business with me because of the way I dress, so be it.” Wow, what a destructive communicative style.
Perhaps he didn’t realize that we routinely communicate through our clothing and appearance. I believe what he really was saying was, “I don’t care about you. I don’t care if I show up for this meeting like I’m at a modeling shoot. I’m going to do what’s best for ME.” As I’ve expressed repeatedly, make your customers feel important. Make them feel comfortable. Do what’s best for them, not you.
- Speak in layman’s terms – keep informal communication short and simple.
Don’t overwhelm readers or listeners when giving a short sales pitch. According to infomercial fitness guru Tony Little (as quoted in Investor’s Business Daily), “The worst thing to do in a short sales meeting is to get technical. Even though a particular product may have 50 sales points, the best strategy is to pick a few important points and keep repeating them.” Readers and listeners only have so much attention span. Pick a few keys and try to hammer those points home.
- Don’t phone it in – develop and use good phone etiquette.
Avoid using your cell phone in front of your clients and customers. The truth is that nobody wants to hear you on the phone. Typically, because cell phone users shout as if they are at a rock concert, their personal business is shared with everyone. I’m sure everyone has a horrific cell phone story. Here is mine. A few years ago, I took my wife out to lunch and sat next to a man and woman seemingly enjoying lunch together. Suddenly, one of their cell phones rang and they proceeded to conduct a 15 minute conversation on speaker phone.
We heard the whole conversation and it was bizarre, to say the least. Usually, we only hear one side of the conversation. This time we heard both sides. All we could do was laugh as they were oblivious to their surroundings. If I knew what YouTube was at the time, I would have filmed the whole episode.
- Short is better – this isn’t the NBA!
Say what you want to say with fewer words. Brevity is the way to go. Remember that the Gettysburg address, still considered one of the greatest speeches of all time, was a scant 276 words. Try to cut down the size of your communications. Find ways to get your point across with fewer words. Reduce a 2 page memo to a single page. Highlight the important points while removing the tedious, unnecessary points.
Your readers are busy, just like you. Don’t waste time giving unnecessary details. Get to the point as quickly as possible. The same is true when speaking. Most experts believe that your conversation partner won’t remember much anyway, so be sure to cut through the clutter so the chances are better that your key points will resonate.
- Don’t enter any vocabulary contests – use words that fit.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who makes up words or uses big words to impress others? Many years ago I was speaking with a consultant together with my former wine director, Todd. The consultant said a word that was just a little too big for his tongue. He mentioned the “criticality” of a certain financial statistic. Todd and I shot each other a knowing look. This was a big word in our world, but the funny thing was we detected a slight smile on his face. It was almost as if he had been trying to get the word into the conversation.
According to Leil Lowndes (1999) in Talking the Winners Way, winning communicators use “rich, full words, but they never sound inappropriate.” This makes perfect sense. Don’t try to impress others with your vocabulary. Chances are you may use the word incorrectly or miss-pronounce it. The results may be egg all over your face. Play it safe and your conversations will go according to plan.
- Listen, while you work – become a better listener.
Improve your listening skills. Become an active listener. Look into their eyes. Give the visual feedback they need to feel they are being heard. As I’ve mentioned before, my experience has taught me that, often times, others just want to be heard, and not necessarily for you to change your mind about something.
Put your cell phone (or blackberry) away and concentrate on your conversation partner. I was speaking with a supplier contact the other day. He related the story of one of his sales people typing an email message while conversing with a customer. His view (and I concur wholeheartedly): When you are speaking with someone, they must be treated like the most important person in the world at that precise moment. Yes, there are some exceptions. I always mention if I am expecting a call or email, but only if it is truly urgent. Otherwise, keep your attention focused on your conversation partner.
Here is the rub and I’ll try to say it as clearly as possible. Try to implement one of these tips each week and concentrate solely on that aspect of your communication style. Don’t do it all at once. The mind can’t focus on all these skills at once. The key is learned behaviors and skills that become second nature.
Only you can decide to become a better communicator. Reminds me of something I read recently. The 1972 Olympic Games took place in Munich, Germany. Frank Shorter was on the U.S. marathon team and won the race in one of the most thrilling races in Olympic history. As he circled the track with just a short distance to go, Jim McKay summarized the achievement by saying, “You have to run the race yourself!” His comment suggested that, at the end of the day, it was up to the marathoner to summon the courage, guts and stamina to compete (and win) and that nobody would do it for him.
The same is true with your communication skills. Make others feel important. Choose the right method of communication. Keep things brief and simple. Read your words – will your intended meaning show through? Thank people memorably. Go that extra mile. Show initiative and effort. Others will want to be around you. The result: you will cross the finish line with your associates, clients and customers.
Article Source: EzineArticles.com