Today communication is all about winning. It is about winning business, people, audiences, and even elections.
But real communication is a two way thing. Talking, without shaping your speech by responding to your listener(s) will gain you nothing. And you can lose everything. A good communicator must always read the audience and must respond to their friendly gestures by carefully organizing his speech.
Communication, one said, is pretty simple. I plan and communicate then you listen and understand. But contrary to that, how many times have you been in low productive communications (with a friend, in meetings or listening to lecturers/ presentations/ discussions/ seminars)? You were hearing nothing but “wa-wa-waa-wawaa.." continuously till the end. Weren't you counting seconds to free yourself? In such a case, you would have asked, was that an issue of my communication or was it the presenter’s presentation skills. I am not willing to commit for an unwise answer here. But I am definitive that communication is ‘listening’ too.
Today, in the context of Information Communication Technology (ICT) the written and oral communication skills have unfolded into many other paradigms. This is a time we say, just having good command in English is not satisfactory. The professionals around you are well equipped with its derivative skills such as the ones listed below:
- General Communication Skills
- Presentation Skills
- Team Building
- Leadership Skills
- Customer Servicing
- Managing Skills
It does not matter what skills you possess or want to possess, there is a golden rule that governs all and that is ‘the ability to effectively transfer knowledge’. You know something and you tell someone else, and then they know it. A primitive level of communication is pretty simple. But in the competitive market, winning a business (or bargaining with a customer) with your communication skills, things gets a little more complicated than that. The more skills you possess, the more you stay ahead in the competition.
“Having more weapons in his armoury, didn't Indrajith use ‘Naga Paasha’ (a weapon made of million snakes), the most ferocious weapon of his armoury to get both Rama and Lakshmana paralyzed making the very immortals tremble with fear?” – Ramayana.
So for you, would it hurt to have a couple of more tricks to add to your armoury?
In order to become a lifelong learner, you need to understand the importance of self-evaluation. So let’s do a self evaluation before us going into details. Your direct aim has to be to honestly find how many of these, noted below, apply to you.
- You feel very uncomfortable and confused in any type of communications.
- You are well known as one who creates utter chaos when communicating.
- You like to be the silent one. You are not comfortable convincing or proving a point, hence opt to be silent in discussions or meetings.
- You enjoy talking, but not others who are around you. It was like, you just want to release everything compressed in your mind to whoever wants to listen. In this regard, you have no care even if nobody listens.
- Others don't hear you. You said something and at the end people start asking so many questions just like they never heard you originally.
- You find it harder to get something answered the first time. You expect an answer to a question you raised (let’s say in a forum or in a news group), but only find another question being raised asking for more details about the question you raised.
- You are not good at resolving issues. You send an e-mail to resolve an issue, but ended up not solving but creating many other issues.
- You get it wrong the first time. Your e-mail pursues another carrying something you missed before or you get an immediate reply from the receiver questioning about something, which you missed to clarify in the first place.
- You hate questions. You naturally hate questions and always use your loud voice, professional status as a shielding to stop people from asking questions.
- You are lazy. You, yourself know that you don't make any sense. But still you bear your poor communication skills.
If you are in tune, then I have a confidential message to you “You Do Have Communication Issues”. The ‘communication issue’ is not one of those incurable deceases. A willingness to be better and continuous learning will bring you success.
If you know that you have a communication issue and want to get relieved of it, then please proceed reading through the list below to have some tangible clues for your frailties.
- You start expressing things from the place where you stop thinking. It is a serious issue that many people know they have. As an example, you were thinking over a mysterious calculation for the past few months. Then suddenly you realized that you found the answer and shouted “Eureka!”, “Eurekaa!!” and start showing some mathematical equations to the ones standing around you. But will that noise you made, or the equations you showed, make the people around you understand the tale behind your outburst? If you really needed them to understand you, you need to refresh your mind and explain the situation starting from the very beginning step by step upward knowing that nobody has a clue about what you know now.
- You are not a great listener. All great leaders are great listeners. If it is to win a customer, then make the customer talk more. Listen to him. In communication, the best way to know is by listening. So mark this, listen with great care, understand the listener and formulate the most accurate answer to his query. In this regard, you must control that urging need, which you have to jump in with your part of their story. Don't distract him and chip in with your bits and pieces when a customer is talking about something familiar. That distracts you as a listener and also can hurt the flow of your customer’s ideas. You may have just lost some vital information.
While I was doing one of the presentations, I saw a guy nodding his head all the time, hinting to me that he is listening and well following the presentation. A quick question directed at him proved me that what I thought was right.
At the same time be attentive not to tire yourself in listening. I have seen this common in team meetings, there are many instances where a team member starts to talk and just with the beginning you know it is going to be some worthless utterance, but you still have to listen. In such case at least pretend like you are listening, because that is a great way of paying respect to the one who is speaking.
- You are not attentive to the gestures, expressions, questions and behaviors of your audience. The presenter should pay close attention to every corner of his/ her audience. In face-to-face meetings, you need to read the listener’s facial expression and must respond to them by reshaping your speech.
- When your customer is looking at his watch indicating that he needs to go, why don't you respond to it immediately? It is the context in which you need to win. If you say you need more time to win him, while the customer does not have time for you, why not let him go for now? Otherwise it is like you are trying to apply the rules of the game ‘Checkers’ when you are actually playing the game ‘Chess’. The rule says that ‘the customer does not have time’. So adhere to that rule and adjust your strategy accordingly. But never try to change the rule, unless it is permitted.
- You see things through the colored glasses in your eye. Then you always see/ hear them the way you want, not the reality. In a meeting if one asks the same question over and over, please recognize that friendly message. He is politely telling you that ‘you are not making any sense with your answer’. At the same time, encourage people to ask questions. The one who is asking a question is really lending a helping hand to shape up your speech.
- I say “What a poor code you have written there”, then I have seen developers taking that as “I said, you are a poor coder”. You are not born as a poor coder. I only said in that particular instance, you have written a poor code. It is not a general comment. You have the option of writing a better code the next time. Don't you think that this is part of the listening too? So pay close attention to every word of the message. But then I can also say it better, “Do you think you can write this code better?” or “How do you think you can write this code better?”
- You under communicate. By doing this you only invite problems for today or for the future. If a mistake you did emerges as a problem later, then that problem will be sudden, much worse, and also in an accumulated form. Avoid this and fully cover all aspects of the situation the very first time when communicating.
- One day, I saw an e-mail sent to a customer noting a delay of a delivery by one of our project managers. It stated “The scheduled next release (1.1.0 on 1/Feb) needs to be delayed slightly. We will do the release on 3/Feb”. This e-mail clearly has two issues, firstly, it does not have the reason for the delay and secondly, it does not mention whether it has any ripple effect on the subsequent releases. The next day, the customer came back with the much expected question. That was “Can we get a reason why this is being delayed?” This is clear under communication. In IT, this is not a habit that you can ignore and survive.
- You over communicate. This can lead people to ignore you, but this is much better than under communication. Think that nobody knows what you know, tell everyone everything, and thus help avoid problems that would occur otherwise.
- You heavily use ‘subjective' terms. Subjective terms place an excessive emphasis on one's own opinions. When you say ‘a slight delay' it can give many different meanings based on the context of the story. If the context is about the arrival time of a train, a slight delay would mean a couple of ‘hours’ delay whereas if the context is about the arrival time of a ship, the same delay would mean couple of ‘days’ or even ‘months’. So avoid subjective terms at all cost, and be specific.
- You fail to recognize the order in which you need to communicate your points. This sometimes has to do with not clearly understanding the underlying logic of the situation.
- You are afraid of issues. If you are afraid of issues then you tend to be over excited. Your blood pressure increases, making it hard to think normally. If you are into IT, living with issues is your normal life and a life without issues is your day dream. If you didn't receive an e-mail from your customer about an issue from your last delivery, assume the businessman may be sick. So call him and ask if everything is all right. Don't be afraid. Firefighters are never afraid of fire, are they?
- You are not planning things. Once, three of us went to meet a customer, it was a face-to-face meeting. The customer was at his uneasy mood complaining that we have over billed him. We, the team didn't have the roles defined for the meeting nor had a cumulative strategy to convince the customer. All three had their little tactics waiting to come out in front of that rampant customer. It took us only couple minutes to make that gentleman hit his desk hard with his palm and pointed his index finger at one of us indicating that he wanted to come out of his seat to beat us. So not just a critical meeting but you need to plan everything, even the content of an e-mail needs to be thoughtfully ordered.
- A customer can go crazy. Dealing with a customer is like fighting with fire. Act like a firefighter, don't be afraid of fire but don't stop respecting its power either. Keep your head cool in front of that ferocious customer. I have experienced that the one who goes crazy can easily be handled, learn to use their energy to your advantage. Don't you think that a customer who attacks you is really helping you to keep a straight course? He is not accumulating issues. He is firing them at you then and there. So why are you afraid of him?
- If you plan well, you can drive a customer to your advantage. However, in a way, it is like playing with a serpent. Unless precisely calculated, that dangerous move can lead to break the relationship with the customer too. A company can sustain long-term damages as a result of bad customer management.
I have had many such experiences and once even ended up failing and also losing the customer. The customer was aggressive and evidently premeditated to close the business with us. That was a time where American real estate industry was crashing. We did a real estate Business Process Management System for him. At the completion of the project, we noticed a considerable delay in accepting the final system. We were pushing him to accept the product but only found him calling for a meeting. That was several weeks later and there he said that the product does not meet the end-user requirements, hence cannot be accepted. As always we were confident to prove that he is wrong. I thought of two possibilities, first, we have truly missed his real requirements, the second, that business tycoon wanted to correct his wrong business decision, which he took to invest on this IT project at a wrong time, where the US economy was crashing. We were having meetings with him day after day. He outwardly was persuading for missing requirements but inwardly doing secret calculation to sue us over the damage this caused to his business. He didn't sue us but stopped doing business with us. Today, I think with little more planning, we would have faced that customer much better and would have come out of that do-or-die situation with less damage than what we incurred. I guess everybody learned the lesson. But I still continue to think that the customer was trying to kill two birds with one stone.
I understand that this does not have all angles covered, but just hope that this reading made you a little more stronger than you were before...
- 15th February, 2010: Initial post