Tag Archives: communication skills

Are You Interested?

interested3Whether you are a sales professional, sales manager, business executive or business owner, becoming “interested” is an important component of driving your organization’s sales and business development effort.

While great amounts of emphasis are more commonly placed on striving to become “interesting” in our interaction with others — that is, we focus on our “speaking points” and things we might say.

Instead, consider the concept of becoming more “interested” and how it might influence the various people involved.

Read the full article…

Storytelling Can Be a Solution for Many Managerial & Leadership Challenges

leadership4Business leaders and managers often express their frustration when their directives, presentations, or other messages don’t seem to be heard or understood — or heeded!

Many report having to reiterate the same policies and procedures, only to have them fall on deaf ears again and again.

If this sounds familiar, there is a simple solution for today’s leaders!

As presented in a recent newsletter, storytelling has proved to be the key leadership technique for increasing understanding, buy-in, and compliance.

For example, in a recent Forbes article, author and consultant Steve Denning suggests, “Rather than merely advocating and counter-advocating propositional arguments, which lead to more arguments, leaders establish credibility and authenticity through telling their stories…

“When they [leaders] believe deeply in them, their stories resonate, generating creativity, interaction and transformation.”

“Stories can change the way we think, act, and feel,” says the editorial team at mindtools.com.

“They can form the foundations of an entire workplace culture, and they have the power to break down barriers and turn bad situations around. Stories can capture our imaginations, illustrate our ideas, arouse our passions, and inspire us in a way that cold, hard facts often can’t.”

Research by Paul Smith, a consumer research executive, indicates the following as being among the most common reasons for the use of stories by business leaders:

  • Inspiring the organization
  • Setting a vision
  • Training or teaching important lessons
  • Defining culture and values
  • Garnering organizational buy-in
  • Leading change

No One Ever Listened Themselves Out of a Job

listen2Following-up on our previous post about the power of questions, it only seemed right that we address the other ‘half’ of the probing equation: LISTENING.

In an earlier post we shared some facts about listening; and as you may know, most communication experts consider it to be the most important communication skill. Unfortunately, listening also tends to be the communication skill at which most of us are the least proficient.

A well-known quote from Calvin Coolidge exemplifying this perspective: “No man ever listened himself out of a job!”

If we’re able to enhance our probing skills and, as a result, ask better questions during sales calls or important meetings, it is important that we effectively listen to the answers to those questions.

Here are three best practices for improving our ability to listen:

  1. Prepare for sales calls or important meetings in writing. As noted in the previous post referenced above, is best to put an equal amount of focus on what we will “say” as well as what we will “ask” when preparing ourselves. However, one of the key benefits of preparing ourselves in this fashion (in writing) is that it eliminates the biggest obstacle to good listening – that being the distraction associated with thinking about what WE will say or ask next while others are speaking. If we’re distracted in this way, we cannot listen effectively.
  2. Set a desired TALK / LISTEN ratio as part of the pre-call or pre-meeting plan outlined in item #1. Most people agree that they communicate differently (and more effectively) when they have given themselves a target to “only talk 40%” or to “listen at least 70%” of the time during interactions with others.
  3. Take notes during sales calls and meetings – and to be clear, these notes are not the same as meeting minutes, as the intent is to capture highlights rather than everything that is said.  Wondering why? Well, note-taking helps us to maintain a stronger focus on what others are saying because it keeps our mind from wandering. It also turns our listening into a multi-sense activity (i.e., we listen with our ears, our sense of touch and our eyes).

 

Bridging the Communication Gap

apples_to_oranges_400_clr_5502Miscommunication can be a costly occurrence.

Defined simply by Merriam Webster as failure to communicate clearly, the causes of miscommunication can vary:

  • lack of forethought or preparation
  • poor verbal skills
  • intentional deceit on the part of the sender
  • lack of comprehension
  • poor listening skills
  • distraction on the part of the receiver, and more…

In an on-line article, author and conflict resolution expert Tristan Loo suggests that miscommunication is also the primary contributing factor to conflict.

“Miscommunication opens up the triangle of other factors that inevitably leads to conflict,” he says.

Loo goes on to explain that people tend to fear the worst outcome.

In moments of miscommunication, the mind will fill in missing information with its own creative insight, which is often fear-based. Our minds naturally seek logical explanations to events as well. Absent those explanations, our minds frequently switch to a fear-based mode in which we satisfy our need for answers with that of assumption.

Once we lock-into our assumptions the tendency is to believe them as truth, thus resulting in conflict.

The Solution – Trial Closing
In the selling world, a great deal is lost to miscommunication, conflict, and misunderstanding. Buyers tend to buy from people they like and trust – but miscommunication, as noted above, breeds uncertainty, conflict and distrust.

To bridge the gap, Loo suggests people adopt an open mind with respect to alternative possibilities. To facilitate this, increased use of clarifying questions by all parties during need assessments, business meetings, conversations and presentations is the key.

Since it is an accepted principle that the primary sender of communication must take the responsibility for the quality of the communication, then the person who is selling should be the one to initiate these clarifying  or “trial closing” questions which, when properly used, will confirm both understanding and receptivity.

Note that trial closing questions (which seek opinions) are not the same as “closing” questions (which seek commitment). Trial closing questions tend to be open-ended as well, where closing questions tend to be closed-ended (i.e., seeking a “Yes” (or “No”) answer.

Examples of trial closing questions include:

  • “How does that sound to your?”
  • “What do you think so far?”
  • “How would that work for your group?”

Read related posts…

 

 

 

5 Presentation Pitfalls

avoidpitfallsWhile selling presentations will vary based on product or service type and complexity, there’s a good chance that, regardless of industry, there are some common mistakes we would all like to avoid.

Here are five of the top presentation blunders based on research and data presented by several sources, including SellingPower, Inc., and BrainShark:

  1. Too many words, not enough value: Many sellers are too focused on dumping out all the information they can – but that doesn’t sell. Instead we must present a persuasive value proposition that is aligned with buyer needs and priorities.
  2. Lack of support: The use of “social proof” in the form of customer testimonials or case studies has proved to be the most persuasive means of supporting a selling presentation.
  3. Too much ad-libbing, not enough preparation: While many of us think that we’re good enough to simply “wing-it,” buyers do NOT agree.
  4. Too much talking, not enough listening: Even if we focus on our value prop, we can still lose the room if our presentation is too one-sided. We must get our audience involved, which means listening with both eyes and ears.
  5. Bad non-verbal communication: No smile, poor posture, poor levels of eye contact, and no variation in voice tone most often yield no sale!

 

Email in the College World & Beyond: Say it Write!

This straightforward commentary by our associate l. a. morrell provides excellent perspective on the too-often-forgotten fundamentals associated with written communication. Her experiences in academia are well-aligned to those we’ve had in the business world…

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smart_phone_custom_text_block_16260 copyemail in the college world
by l. a. morrell, ma

although i have pondered the importance of email etiquette over many years, it was in a recent conversation with a friend and business owner, kate leavy, that my ideas for academic email were cemented. my husband is a doctor of philosophy in computer science and a professor. he often receives emails that do not readily identify the student writing nor the class in which they are enrolled. and, as a teacher and college instructor, it has been my experience that many emails i receive not only fail to identify the student but are also, quite frankly, rude. rude not necessarily by the email content but by the lack of appropriate decorum and explanation of the student’s reason for writing the email and their desired outcome.

first and foremost an email is a letter. you are not chatting with a friend or colleague in a forum that automatically identifies you per message. you are electronically communicating with another person or persons using a mail protocol. i may seem to be stating the obvious but the key concept i present is that email is mail, a letter. there are common formats and courtesies expected when one writes a letter and sends it through conventional mail. these conventions need to translate into writing an email. i outline the conventions i believe are essential in any email, and certainly in one addressed to a professional whether that be a teacher, professor, colleague, employer, and so on. this article specifically speaks to how a college student should approach the classroom instructor in an email.

first, use a salutation. do not just start “talking”. start with “dear professor doe” or “hello professor doe”. this simple method ensures the recipient they are reading something for them. after the salutation put a comma and leave a blank line before starting the body of the communication.

next, introduce yourself in the first line of the letter. “this is jane smith and i am in your ict 101 introduction to software class.” this one-liner allows the recipient to put the rest of your letter in its much needed context. you do not need to put this in a separate paragraph. you can then continue on with your reason for writing the email.

the body of the letter, the email, should go on to politely and professionally explain the reason for the communication. be precise and clear in your statement. try to include an example from the class to explain why you are writing. and, importantly, include what you hope the outcome will be for writing. for example: “i am writing because i am confused about the expectations for our final project. the syllabus says it should be a five line code with the output ‘hello world’. i am not sure what language you want me to use or how i should submit the assignment. do you mind clarifying this for me?” this simply states your intent and what you hope happens in response to your letter.

your last comments should be pleasant. close politely in a separate paragraph. thank the instructor for their time and try to say something positive about the class, the assignments, or the program.

finally, end the letter with your first and last name and email address. it is always nice to include a one to two word closing, for example “sincerely” or “regards” before your name.

so, an email to a professor or class instructor would look like this:

dear professor doe,

this is jane smith and i am in your ict 101 introduction to software class. i am writing because i am confused about your expectations for our final project. the syllabus says to write five lines of code with the output “hello world”. i am not sure what language you want us to use or how to submit the project to you. could you please clarify these for me?

thank you very much for your time. i am enjoying this class and look forward to continuing in the ict program.

sincerely,

jane smith

janes@abc.edu

taking the extra small amount of time to properly address and write your email to your class instructor is good practice that prepares you to present yourself professionally to potential employers and professional colleagues. happy emails!

In addition to her affiliation with Paul Charles & Associates, L.A. Morrell has a distinguished track record of success in professional and academic settings.  Her writing style, as you may have noticed, has been influenced by the works of e. e. cummings. She can be contacted through our web site.

The Most Important Communication Skill?

listeningWhat do you consider the most important communication skill?

It’s common for people to think of communication in terms of speaking, as in the “gift” of gab. But experts and researchers agree that listening is the most important communication skill. It’s also the most frequently used communication skill.

For example, a typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours communicating; but, of that time, we spend about 9% writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking, and 45% listening.

Unfortunately, studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.

Here are a few interesting facts about listening challenges, and three things that can improve listening effectiveness.

The first challenge lies in the fact that, on average, thought speed exceeds average speaking speed by three to four times! Thus, due to excess “thought” capacity, our minds tend to wander when we (try to) listen to other people speak.

In addition, there are minimal opportunities for training. Most people will acknowledge they have had much more formal training in other communication skills (writing, reading, speaking) and also find it more difficult to find programs that might help improve listening.

Numerous tests also confirm that we are inefficient listeners. Studies show that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood and retained only 50% of what was said. Within 48 hours, that drops off another 50% to a final level of 25% efficiency. In other words, we tend to comprehend and retain only one fourth of what we hear!

Finally, various forms of distraction inhibit our ability to listen effectively; and on top of this list of distractions is the tendency to shift our focus away from what others are saying because we are instead focusing on what we will say or ask next.

If you’d like to improve your listening skills, here are three ideas based on research conducted locally and at the University of Missouri:

  1. Prepare… Preparation prior to interacting with others is a good way to reduce distraction during communication. If we are less focused on what we will say or ask next (because we’ve planned ahead, in writing), we are able to place more focus on what others are saying.
  2. Ask better questions… Anticipating what others might say, making mental “summaries” while they are speaking and asking good questions to clarify what has been said will enhance our ability to listen and comprehend.
  3. Take notes… Note-taking can improve our listening in several ways. First it uses-up some of the excess thinking capacity described above. The act of writing or noting portions of what has been said also improves our memory of the material as it turns our listening into a “multi-sense” activity.  Finally, many people confuse listening with having a good memory… so if we take notes we can also refer to them later if (when!) we forget some of what was said.

 

More Persuasive Presentations!

If we’re not careful, our sales presentations might simply focus on “what we do!”

balance
Download a free “balancing tool” for your presentations…

However, the best sales presentations contain the right mix of information flow and interactivity, and are uniquely balanced to best fit audience interests, needs and priorities — in other words, “what they get!”

Without the proper amount of both perspective and preparation, it’s easy for presentations to become weighted down with too many facts and figures, while lacking supporting examples or testimonials; many can also become too long and contain few, if any, questions; and far too many conclude without a call to action or consequential next step.

Assuming sufficient preparation and effective delivery — that is, appropriate levels of enthusiasm, eye contact and tone variation — the ideal selling presentation, regardless of length, should contain a strategic balance of seven key ingredients:

  1. Statement of purpose or clear objectives
  2. Information: features, facts and data (properly researched)
  3. Benefits: how the information will solve audience problems, satisfy needs or improve situations (what they will get!)
  4. Supporting documentation: examples, stories and testimonials
  5. Interactivity: questions to engage listeners and to confirm their understanding and buy-in
  6. Summary: a concise reminder of objectives and identification of conclusions
  7. Call-to-action: the specific next steps we would like our audience to take. It’s not a selling presentation if it doesn’t include a close!

Whether making an introductory presentation, an “elevator pitch” or a formal selling presentation, we will be significantly more persuasive and will most assuredly enjoy greater success if these seven elements are incorporated into our delivery.

Better PowerPoint Presentations!

Many of us use PowerPoint as a presentation tool, and this blog post from ACreativeAtWork.com shares some good ideas for enhancing our slides.

Three suggestions that stood out are:

  1. Respect the template. Placing images or text in your slides that interfere with the template looks sloppy and unprofessional.  Avoid this at all costs.
  2. Use the “set transparency color” option with your pictures. While not always an appropriate option, using this with graphics and pictures with solid backgrounds can allow you to seamlessly integrate them into your slide design; nestling them close to your text without interfering with your message or template.
  3. Be consistent with your font types, sizes, and colors. Inconsistency often happens as a result of cutting and pasting text from other programs into your slide.  Inconsistency with fonts not only looks unprofessional, it is diminishes readability and distracts from your message.

Critical Communication Skills?

comm2People have a tendency to think about communication in terms of speaking… as in, “So-and-so is a great communicator because they speak so well!”

However, when it comes to effective, reliable communication, we’ve found the following four skills to be the most critical:

Planning… or at the very least, a willingness to plan. Consider that if we take the time to plan our communication we will most likely identify numerous things we’d like to learn about others and hopefully craft good questions to help with this pursuit. In addition, we’ll more than likely identify several key things we’d like to share with our audience (whether an audience of one of 1 or 100) as well – thereby conducting a more thorough exchange.

Finally, the forethought should help us to use more specific language, thus helping our audience to more accurately interpret our message; and we might even anticipate exactly how our audience might interpret or misinterpret our message, and take preventative action!

Probing… Asking the best questions can make an enormous difference in the flow of communication and  on how others react to our questions – how they perceive the “reasons we’re asking certain questions.”

Consider that whether involved in a simple one-on-one discussion, conducting an interview, leading a meeting, coaching a team member, making a sales call or making an important telephone call, the person who is asking the questions tends to be the one in control.  Further, the quality of those questions and the way in which they are structured will have a significant impact on the quality of the answers we receive.

Listening… The experts say that listening is the most important communication skill, and the one we use the most out of all communication skills (45%). However, it is also the one at which we tend to be the least efficient. The biggest barriers to good listening are distractions:

  • Internal distractions such as thinking about what we will say or ask next rather than listening to others; or dealing with physical issues such as a headache or hunger.
  • External distractions such as loud background noises, poor telephone connections, or a distracted audience.
  • The tendency to rebut what others are saying… this, the studies show, can happen in varying degrees depending upon the nature of our conversation and the party or parties with whom we’re interacting. But once we start to anticipate how we will argue with whatever it is others are saying, we compromise our ability to listen

Proactive style… or more simply stated, “doing what we say we’ll do” as a result of conversations, meetings, instructions, customer requests, and so on.  Logically, it is far easier to accomplish this if we have accurately heard and interpreted (listened!) to those addressing us; and, as noted above, if we have asked good questions – including clarifying questions when we’re not clear on what others have said – the likelihood of reliable interpretation is greater, which will enable us to more effectively and accurately follow-through on things we’ve discussed.

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