Category Archives: Communications

All your secrets are revealed

In any business and in any department managers will be concerned to reduce doubts and remove fears and uncertainties from them their team. That’s great when the news is positive, but what do you do when it is not so good?

I have learned that in many businesses there are no secrets and trying to keep secrets just creates more problems than it is worth.

The fastest method of communication has always been the rumour mill. I think it breaks Einstein’s laws and is actually faster than the speed of light!

The messages sent and received by the rumour mill are like those on an old radio. They are subject to heavy distortion, some of which may be intentional and some accidental. There are individuals who seek to benefit, if only emotionally, by spreading their distorted view of events. 

Who are you thinking of, right now?

If you want to make sure that all right message goes out to your team you need to control the message and the only way to do and that is to get ahead of the game.

There will be times when you don’t want the team to know everything but if you say nothing they’ll make up their own minds.  The trick is to give them enough to keep them feeling they are “in the know” without revealing the sensitive information.

This is never more relevant than when you are selling your business.

It is self-evident that you don’t want to tell the whole team you are considering selling. If you do, the next question will be some way towards “What does that mean for me?” which you, as the vendor, cannot answer. What the new owner does with the business and the team is down to them!

The acquirer is quite likely to want to see the business, so you need to tell the team something and the closer to the truth the better.

How about “We are exploring how our businesses might work together?”

It’s a lot more credible than the old “prospective customer” especially when you don’t usually have customer visits.

Sometimes it is good to wait

When we are in conversation, there’s a natural rhythm and most of the time we read the signals, we know when the other party has finished speaking and make our comments at the appropriate time. When that goes wrong, we end up interrupting each other and failing to listen.

If you are not a fearsome interviewer called Paxman or Humphreys that is probably accidental, or it is driven by emotion – usually anger.

Interrupting someone by speaking over them is bad manners, and can provoke the speaker being interrupted.

It can be necessary, especially if you have someone veering from the point of the discussion, to bring them back on track but you don’t have to speak over them – or worse shout to get your voice heard.

Often, a quizzical look is enough, but if that doesn’t work try raising your hand and waiting. Most people will pause, and that pause offers you the opportunity to comment.

You can use one of several phrases at this moment. You might say “That’s interesting, can we come back to that in future?” or perhaps “Fascinating, but we were discussing XYZ and I’d like to complete that discussion before we move onto this topic”

The pause is one of the most powerful – and underutilised – conversational (and public speaking) techniques.

Try inserting deliberate pauses into a conversation when you are trying to elicit information, or want to convince your conversation partner to contribute more. We don’t like silence and the temptation is to “fill in the blanks”

Combine it with the technique of asking open questions – simply questions to which the answer cannot be Yes or No – and be patient.

In a one to one or small group conversation, the other parties will feel compelled to share their thoughts.

Subtle approaches

There are times when you see a colleague struggling, or perhaps just not making the grade. You may not be directly responsible for them, so in many ways, it is not your problem and they probably won’t ask for help.

There are also individuals who are closed, and not receptive to advice or guidance. They react very negatively if you try to tell them how to do something or suggest a better way.A phrase that you can use in both these circumstances is “If I were you I would…” It works by inserting a qualifier – you are making your suggestion conditional upon being the other party – which means it is not a direct instruction. It’s a suggestion for consideration.
In a similar vein, when I am approaching business owners on behalf of a potential acquirer, I find the direct approach can lead to high levels of rejection.The instinctive answer to “Would you like to sell your business?” appears to be “No”

If I ask a slightly different question “My client would like to explore a closer working relationship with you – is that something you would consider?” the answer is nearly always yes.That allows me to enter into a conversation, find out more about the company and make better decisions based on that additional information.
I’m reminded of the saying “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”

I am instinctively polite and would feel uncomfortable asking anyone to do anything without adding a “please” 
If you have the opportunity to use slightly more subtle language, try to do so.
It’s very rare that your meaning doesn’t come across loud and clear!

What’s logic go to do with anything?

Do you expect your customers or your team to react logically?

You will often be disappointed if you do!

Fans of the Star Trek series will remember Leonard Nimoy playing the character Spock, who was half human and half Vulcan. The emotional human half was suppressed by the unemotional Vulcan half and Spock often found himself struggling to understand his human colleagues’ emotional reactions.

Your customers are not Vulcans or robots. How you make them feel is at least as important as how well you do your job / provide your service.

How you make them feel is going to be determined by their interaction with your team – so your team (who are also human, not Vulcan or robot) must appreciate that how they make the customer feel is crucial.

If your team are not happy and enthusiastic about your business they will struggle to make the customer feel loved and valued.

Have you ever been served in the local supermarket by the Saturday girl who quite clearly did not want to be at work – she’d rather be hanging out with her friends or still in bed?

Every time your customer or prospect connects to your business they form an impression of the business.

It’s not just when you are on your best behaviour, giving a fantastic sales presentation, or when they’ve come to see you at a trade show. It’s all the little contacts in between, from the receptionist through the customer support team to the sales team and the directors.

You can deliver the best product, the best possible service and get everything right, but if your customer doesn’t feel good about doing business with you it won’t matter.

Remembering the sayings “A man who never made a mistake never made anything” and “to err is human” aiming for a satisfied customer really won’t get you to the point where you can slip up, make a mistake, provide poor service, and be forgiven.

Turning your customers into raving fans not only creates easy sales wins – they will refer business – it also cushions you against any shortfall in service.

Consider the intentions

Treat others as you would wish to be treated is a mantra that you often hear. It’s something that is worth applying in many aspects of life and I suggest worth applying in the office.

I recently had to intervene in a discussion that was becoming rather heated.

The background was that one member of the sales team had (in good faith) offered additional technical information to a customer.  His belief was that this information was readily available, when in fact it was unproven (but very probably accurate) assumption.

Recovering the situation required the technical department to undertake additional work to prove the theory and provide further details to the customer.

Understandably, the technical team leader was somewhat upset!

The heated discussion was along the lines of “You shouldn’t have said that!” responded with “you should have had the info available”

There’s no way to take back what has been said.

Had the sales team realised this was an unproven theory they would not have made the offer.

Express your frustration, but then let’s move on to a solution.

You can’t change history so stop trying. Learn from the mistake, so that you can avoid it in future, but then focus on what you can change.

Part of the problem in this situation (and in many others) was the failure of either party to consider the intentions of the other.

The very last thing the sales team wanted was to mislead the customer or set an expectation that can’t be met.

The very last thing the technical department wanted was to share an unproven theory as if it were fact.

Pausing for a moment to consider the intentions will often take the heat out of the situation and allow you to accept what has happened. You can’t change it, but at least if you understand why it happened you can accept it and move on.

How would you want to be treated if you’d made the mistake?

Are you adding value?

I was in a management meeting not very long ago where everyone had something to say on almost every subject. The meeting went on, and on, and on….!

I was reminded of the quotation

“If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter”

The source of which is most probably Blaise Pascal – but of course the original was in French so it is not a direct translation.

I was also reminded of a talk given by my colleague in the Speakers’ Association, Peter Milligan, where he referred to some guidance he was given early in his career. I could summarise that as don’t speak unless you have something to add.

I’ve had the delights of doing business all over the world, often with companies and individuals where their first language is not English. Sometimes communication from these clients and prospects requires a level of interpretation – it is difficult to determine exactly what they mean – and it can be made far worse when they try to be polite and use elaborate language.

Even in the same office, unnecessary communication is an ever increasing time waster. I remember years ago taking a call from a colleague who was repeating some information he had previously send me in an email! One or the other, please not both!

How many emails do you get that you don’t need to respond to? How many that are copied to you for information only?

I heard some time ago of a manager who instructed his team not to send him emails unless they wanted him to take action. I am not sure I would go that far.

If you can make each business communication direct and to the point (still polite, of course) and each interjection in a meeting something that adds real value and moves the meeting forward, you will be much more productive and efficient.

Perception vs Reality

Many years ago I worked for a very high growth technology business and we were always in need of funding because we were growing so fast.

One of my English colleagues, Jonathan, took over from me as Finance Director for the Americas region whilst I went out to Hong Kong to set up Asia Pacific.

He decided to fulfil his dream by getting a Porsche, but the only car available was pink. He bought it anyway and was the subject of much hilarity in the office as a result.

The time came when we needed extra working capital so Jonathan and Mike, our treasury director, went to the bank in Silicon Valley to try and arrange this.

The bank manager looked out of the window, saw the car, and told them he would not be lending money to any business where the Finance Director drove a pink Porsche!

I am sure that was a tongue in cheek comment, but there’s a valid point here. Perception counts and what your customers, suppliers and your team perceive is all that matters.

So when you look at your business try to see it as a stranger would see it. What message does the tired reception area send, what message do the weeds in the carpark give?

If you review your website, and the last update was 9 months ago, what message are you sending?

If your team see you having a bad day and grumbling about something, what message do they get – and what message do they pass on to the customer?

Imagine for a moment that you wanted to perpetrate a fraud. How far would you go to project the best possible image so that your target would part with their money? You would not leave anything to chance.

In business, we overlook the perception because we think the reality will counter it – we think that reality counts, but that’s not true. Perception counts.

Red or Blue?

 

John held up the ball in his hand and asked his Chris “What colour is this ball?” to which the angry young man replied, “it’s red, of course – what that got to do with it?” John replied “Actually, from where I am sitting, it is blue”

John rotated the ball, and Chris could now see that it was red on one side, but blue on the other.

A simple story but one that illustrates the saying “There are two sides to every story”

Most of the time there are many different versions of the truth. People see things from their own perspective and often will embellish a story or an event. Sometimes that’s just to make the story more entertaining, and sometimes because their version makes them look better.

Often that is harmless but it can lead to real problems, especially if there is competition or conflict in the team. That’s when the different perspectives can become misleading and may cause you to make poor decisions.

Good decisions are based on sufficient accurate information – or blind luck. Poor quality information, including that seen from one perspective, should be eliminated or counterbalanced.

If you have doubts about something you have been told, gather more evidence!

Transparency and honesty from the leadership team will help eliminate the tendency to only tell the story from one side. If you know you are going to get found out, you won’t cross the line!

This approach works outside the company as well as within. If a supplier has let you down, and you are given an excuse that doesn’t quite ring true, check it out. Often, the supplier’s sales manager or account manager is giving you the positive story but you can get closer to the truth by asking higher up in the organisation.

The same applies to your customers – be careful what messages your team a delivering. If they are trying to keep the customer happy by embellishing the truth, they (and you) will probably get caught out. Honesty and transparency will go a long way.

 

You hear the words but do they mean it?

 

Have you ever had a conversation where it just didn’t feel right? You know there’s something wrong, but it is not in the words – or even in the tone of the conversation – but there is still something not quite right.

There’s a good chance that you are picking up on non-verbal cues – body language – without even realising that’s what you are doing. You may think “I don’t know anything about body language” but actually we all do – we just don’t pay attention to it. Think of a mime artist – can they convey a story or an emotion? You are reading body language.

When you are interviewing someone you will have a good feel for the outcome of the interview within a few seconds. First impressions include the way the interviewee moves and talks as well as their external appearance, and we are really good at picking up those signals.

You can use this inbuilt ability in the office. Take a look at the team, see if you can picture an individual’s emotional state. If you see someone who is having a bad day – whether that’s because there are problems at work, or something is going on at home – have a conversation with them.

How would you feel if, when you are having a bad day but you haven’t told anyone, the boss came over and offered support? You’d be more motivated and there’s a good chance you will relax & start doing an even better job.

Now I am not saying you should walk up to someone and say “You look as if you are having a bad day.” Perhaps they are, but perhaps it is entirely personal and private and they have no wish to share.

You might try something as simple as “How is it going?” but that can lead to just the facile “fine, thanks” response. More effective is an offer of assistance “How can I/we help today?”

 

It’s not about the numbers

 

If you are successful in reducing your day to day responsibilities so that you have an empty diary occasionally, you may be wondering what next – what to do with all this free time!

The temptation is to dive back into the detail but that’s to be avoided.

The job and duty of the business leader is to provide direction and to enable other members of the team.

Providing direction is partly about having a good idea where you want the business to be in six months or more – the vision – but in my experience, most leaders have that.

The missing piece is communication.

Circumstances change and the business environment changes. When that happens it’s time to communicate your vision again – and this is where many people fail. You have discussed the position with your closest advisers and adjusted your strategy, but have you told the team?

Taking Brexit as a recent example have you reconsidered your strategy and have you told the team – even if the strategy is no change.

The other part of being a leader is the enabling of the team.

Enabling others to take on responsibilities and tasks is extremely satisfying, especially when they are not sure they are capable!

This too is about communication. You have to be very clear on the required outcome, offer support and be approachable for the team.

In short, you cannot over-communicate but you most certainly can under communicate.

Keep an eye on the numbers but always remember that they are the result of the efforts of the team. Improve the effectiveness of the team and the numbers will show the
result.