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The Top Five Workplace Communication Issues


CommunicationCommunispond has helped many, many organizations deal with communication problems, so we have seen first-hand how miscommunication can sabotage your business goals, zap organizational morale, and increase your costs. This is my list of the top five issues in workplace communication.

5. Misinterpretation. This is probably the most common issue. Language is not usually a precision instrument, and we each have an individual way of using it. Consequently, the meaning of a message can vary from one receiver to another. A particular trouble spot for this issue is messages that cross disciplines – such as when someone in technical support talks to someone in marketing – because disciplines tend to have their own languages. In terms of media, there’s a special trouble spot in email, especially in the age of auto-correct. As a message sender, you can reduce problems of misinterpretation by making your messages concise, clear, and pointed. Have a clear idea of how you want the message receiver to respond. As a message receiver, you can minimize misinterpretation by confirming the meaning of a message with the sender.

4. Bad Information. We’re all familiar with those ridiculous email rumors that are passed along by our more credulous friends. They don’t usually do much harm. But in the workplace, where people might depend on messages in order to get their work done, bad information can have serious costs. It’s a good idea to verify information before passing it on, even when you “know” it is true. 

3. Poor Timing. Too little information and too much information are familiar sources of stress in the workplace. But what about early information or late information? An employee who is trained to use a new system months before the system is installed, for example, will have forgotten most of the training by the time it’s needed. And information that arrives after the project ends can have no effect other than to make the information’s sender appear oblivious. When communicating, check your timing. 

2. Indeterminate Audience. Too often, people treat workplace communication as self-expression. But self-expression is simply self-indulgence. If you want your message to have any effect, you need to know in advance who will receive it. It’s a good idea to imagine yourself as the receiver of your message and to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Organizing your message around the goals of the audience makes it more likely to be heard, understood, and acted on. That’s why our Executive Presentation Skills® program teaches participants how to do an audience analysis. 

1. Inept Listening. I think failure to listen is the number one communication issue in the workplace. We are naturally disposed to treat listening as a passive behavior, but effective listening is an active process. It requires concentration. The techniques of active listening are simple. Note-taking, paraphrasing, and summarizing will all help you focus on your listening and confirm and correct your understanding. You’ll also find that people like being listened to, since it seldom happens in the workplace. Active listening plays a vital role in our Socratic Selling Skills® program, and our graduates find it increases sales, not just because it leads to better information but because it deepens relationships as well.

Act Like a Court Reporter


Someone once said, "One of the hardest things to do in life is to listen without intent to reply." Why don't we listen well? Often, it's because when the customer is talking, we start thinking about our reply.

Hold off on the reply. Instead, act like a court reporter. Take mental and written notes on everything your customer is telling you, so you understand the customer's whole story. Then, like a court reporter, use those notes to play back what the customer said --not verbatim-- but using some of the customer's carefully chosen key words and details.

Be conversational. Lead in with phrases like:

  • "If I understand you correctly,..."

  • "Let me see if I've got this..."

  • "So what I hear you saying is..."

When you listen well, you capture all of the customer's critical information-much like a court reporter. When you play back what you've heard in detail, you begin to establish a strong relationship with your customer, one based on your understanding of the customer's situation. And when you do reply with your information, your reply will be much more on target.

Use Plain, Simple Language


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What Mark Twain wrote in 1880 in a letter to D.W. Bowser applies to presenting today: "I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English–it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in..."

When you present, keep it simple. Beware of jargon, buzzwords, and long convoluted sentences. You don't have to speak in business-speak to have an impact; in fact, you'll be more effective the clearer and simpler you are. Ask yourself, "What's the critical information my audience needs to know?" Ask, "What's the best way to communicate this information to them?" Then select words and sentences that get that message through-plain and simple.

You'll increase your credibility with your audience because you'll make it easy for them to understand your key messages and take the action you want them to take.

The Three Classes of Customer Need


SalesThe classic theory of human motivation was developed by psychologist David McClelland and his associates in the 1960s and 1970s. The McClelland model, which deals with higher-order or "cognitive" motivations, describes three broad human needs:

  • achievement
  • power
  • affiliation 

McClelland, whose work has informed management studies for over 50 years, suggested that people with a high need for achievement seek situations in which they have personal responsibility for a project’s success or failure. People with a high need for power tend to seek situations that give them influence and prestige. People with a high need for affiliation seek situations of cooperative effort and mutual understanding.

This is not to say that the whole world consists of three kinds of people. We all share these three drives to some extent, but each of us has our own individual mix of them. There may even be drives that McClelland never found. The point is to recognize that not everybody, perhaps not even most people, are motivated by money. Money-motivation is a drive for power, and if you’re a successful sales professional, it may well dominate your own mix of drives, since your work is likely measured in money. If you weren’t happy being measured by money, you probably wouldn’t be very successful. But you likely have customers who are driven as intensely by achievement and affiliation as you are by power. You need to learn to recognize these drives so you can help customers realize them.

It’s important to remember, too, that we are talking about higher-order, goal-driven motivation here. Goal-driven motivation is neither biological nor Pavlovian. It is not a button you push to elicit a certain kind of behavior. Higher order motivation is more like an insight into how a person views the world, because recognizing it helps you understand his goals.

What are some of the practical uses of McClelland’s needs-based model? Research has shown that successful managers tend to have a high need for power. If your customer is a successful manager, you may hypothesize that she is motivated by power. 

On the other hand, the movers and shakers of an organization tend to have high achievement needs. If your customer is an entrepreneur, you could hypothesize that he has a high achievement need.

People with a high affiliation need tend to be team players. They’re often found in larger organizations because it is easy to be uncomfortable in a small organization when you have a strong need for affiliation.

Your hypothesis about the customer’s goals can help you create or refine your sales strategy. When you see signs of one of the three needs in a customer, probe Socratically, with open questions, to bring it to the surface: 

  • “How will this affect the performance of your division?” (Achievement)
  • “How will this affect your division’s standing in the company?” (Power)
  • “How will this affect the morale in the division?” (Affiliation)

The enthusiasm with which a customer answers such questions may help you to understand her predominant driver.

Understanding your customer’s motivation will help you to understand her goals. When you can explain how the benefits of your product will help the customer reach her goals, both business and personal, you are that much closer to the sale. That’s why our Socratic Selling Skills® program teaches sales professionals to probe and to listen.

What's Your Elevator Speech?


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How would you describe what you do to someone who doesn't know your business, when you only have a short time - the equivalent of riding from your floor to the lobby in an elevator? Salespeople face this challenge all the time. A contact asks, "What do you do?" or "Who do you work for?" You've got so much to tell them, and so little time to get your message through in a way that makes them want to know more.

Start now and begin crafting your elevator speech. As you do, keep these tips in mind:

  • In one sentence, describe simply and clearly what your job entails or what your company does. Speak in plain language; they don't know your business. 

  • Add an example, so the contact gets a specific picture that cements for them what you do. 

  • Ask them what additional information they'd like. This could be the beginning of a dialogue that uncovers a business opportunity.

Preparing an elevator speech that's clear, concise, and engaging can take you quickly from the ground floor to the penthouse.

Message Aides


What are you using as visual aides to support your message? How do you decide what to put on a visual? First of all, consider your audience. Then ask yourself, "How can I make sure my visuals aid my message? What's the best way to support my message visually - for this audience?"

Consider these options. You might use:
• Charts and graphs for a financial audience, because they like numbers and the relationships of those numbers.
• Illustrations or photos for "big picture" people, because they like concepts.
• Key words or simple statistics for decision- makers, because you make it easy for them to see the decision path they need to take.

Whatever you choose, your visuals should be "MessageAides." They should support, illuminate, enhance and reinforce your words and ideas. Link your visual aids with your message, so your audience sees your message as they hear your message, and they get your point.

The Five Skills of Effective Presentation


presentation skillsPresentations are among the most critical activities that business professionals engage in. It’s no wonder that when you Google “effective presentations,” you get over 10 million hits – with titles like “How to Give Effective Presentations: 21 Tips” and “How to Give a Killer Presentation.” But I don’t think you should try to use somebody else’s tips and tricks before you have mastered presenting, and I don’t think an article on the web can teach to give a killer presentation, simply because effective presentations require skills, not principles.

The Communispond Executive Presentation Skills® program can teach you to give effective presentations by helping you organize a presentation, giving you a safe place to deliver it, and then reviewing your performance with you and other members of your class. We do this, both in-person and online, with the magic of video. Because this method focuses on you, it builds your strengths and positions you to overcome your weaknesses. In the presenting phase of the program, you learn five principal skills.

1. Engaging Language.  Choose the most original words and phrases you can that will enhance the context of the occasion and appeal to the emotions of the audience. 

2. Eye Contact. Maintain eye contact with the audience with eye-brain control. Lock eyes with an individual in the audience, deliver a thought to that person, move your gaze to another individual in another section of the audience, lock eyes, and deliver the next thought. Skip around to different locations in the audience to find your targets. If you try to cover the audience sequentially, row by row, the artificialness of it will distract them.

3. Body Language. Every human culture associates good posture with beauty. When you're erect and balanced, you look like you're ready for anything. Good posture projects energy; poor posture projects apathy or uncertainty. Good body language for presenting is based on

  • balance
  • placement
  • gestures

Good body language provides emphasis and animation without fidgeting or distracting the audience.

4. Expressive Speech. Passion is conveyed in the voice by volume, pitch, rate, and inflection. Speak to an audience member in the back row to get the proper volume, vary your pitch, and use rate and inflection to supply emphasis and intent.

5. Interacting with Visuals. When a new visual comes up in your presentation, tell the audience what it is, then explain what it means, then discuss it further if necessary. But talk to the audience. Don't read from your slides. Look at the slide to remind yourself what it is, think about it for a moment, then turn to the audience, make eye contact with someone, hold it, and tell them what you're showing them. Do this for each point on the slide.

Notice that I didn’t call these the Top Five Tips for Presenting, even though that label might have captured your attention more effectively. These are not tips, they are skills. I can describe them here, and we can discuss them in the comments, but your best hope for mastering them is skills-based training, which is why we approach presentation training as a matter of skill building rather than memorizing tips or following rules.

Know Your Objective for Every Sales Call


Greg Norman, the golfer, says, "Setting goals for your game is an art. The trick is in setting them at the right level, neither too low nor too high." That's important in the game of selling, too.

Before you walk into a client's office or pick up your telephone to call a client, know your goal, or objective, for that sales call. What are you trying to accomplish today that will move that relationship or that opportunity forward? Make sure your objective is a SMART objective:

• Specific - It includes details.
• Measurable - It's quantifiable, so you can measure how it progresses.
• Attainable - It's not pie in the sky.
• Realistic - It makes sense for your business objectives.
• Time-bound - It's got a time-table you'll track.

Without an objective it's like driving on a vacation without a map. During the course of your sales call, you may have to modify your objective but at least you have a plan, one that's set at the right level to move your relationship or your opportunity forward.

I Can't Hear You!


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You may not have attended a presentation where someone in the audience shouted out, "I can't hear you!" because the presenter was inaudible. They may not have shouted it, but they were thinking it. When audiences can't hear a presenter, they start to tune that person out. Their minds wander to what awaits them after the presentation. And it happens almost immediately. Presenters don't have the luxury of slowly becoming audible as they go along in their presentation.

Make sure your audience stays with you from your first words to your last. Make sure they can hear you easily every time you present. When you begin, focus on someone toward the back of your audience. When you do, you project strong volume right off the bat. If the people in the back can hear you easily, the people in front will, too. When you start strong vocally, it's easier to keep your volume strong throughout.

Instead of tuning you out, your audience will concentrate on your message, and look forward to your next presentation.

Selling Skills: Four Customer Responses and How to Deal With Them


SalesI have posted before in this space about starting the sales conversation, and my advice was to invite the customer to provide his or her perspective. What are you likely to hear in response? That's impossible to script, but I can tell you what to listen for.

Exercise your selling skills by listening first for history. Most customers will start with that:

“In the past year, there have been over 100 determined attempts to penetrate our network…”

After the history, the customer will probably get to the real response, which will likely be one of four types.

Type One: Engaged. Sometimes a customer is actually already considering you as a source of help with a problem:

“…and I think we need to look at your certification training for our IT security people.”

This might tempt you to rush the process. Don’t. Use your selling skills to gather information and make sure that security certification training is the real issue. Remember that gathering more information may open more sales opportunities. So, even though things look very promising at this point, don’t come right back with a pitch. Probe for more of the story.

Type Two: Wary. It’s more likely you’ll have a wary customer:

“…and I wanted to review what kind of security solutions are out there.”

In this case, the customer doesn’t want to reveal a need. Use your selling skills to get more information about the customer’s situation, and if he is wary, to make him comfortable. One way to do that is to take the conversation in the direction of his expertise. The customer always has expertise in the history, so that’s often a safe place to follow up, particularly if you’ve been listening closely.

Type Three: Insulting. Sometimes you’ll get a response that a sensitive person would consider a slap in the face:

“…and although I’ve never considered your programs seriously, I thought it was important to review all options.”

Don’t take offense. People do a lot of strange things when they’re scared. It’s a little-appreciated quality of customers that they are fearful. What are they afraid of? They are afraid of being sold! Just remember that as long as the customer fears you, he’s not going to buy. You must use your selling skills to probe, but you must also make her fear go away. Make sure you look the customer in the eye and offer a warm smile. Above all, whatever the customer says in response to the opener, treat it seriously.

Type Four: Irrelevant. Customers are human beings, and human beings can be unpredictable:

“Do you have kids? How do you handle it when they steal a car and spend the night in jail?”

If you get an irrelevant response, especially if it’s something from the customer’s personal life, resign yourself to a conversation that has nothing to do with your purpose in being there. Trying to change the subject amounts to wresting control of the conversation from the customer, which may be futile and will likely damage your relationship. Make the best of it and use it as an opportunity to build the relationship. 

Help your company’s sales people learn to handle any kind of customer response with Socratic Selling Skills®, Communispond’s skills-based training in universally proven dialogue techniques that effectively maximize sales productivity.
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