I don’t know who initially told this story, but I remember hearing it in my youth. Please let me know where the credit should go if anybody knows.
A father and his young son were out in the garage getting it cleaned out for spring. The boy eventually tired of cleaning and wanted to play in the front yard. The father said, “Yes son, you can play but make sure to not go past the curb.” The son went off playing. The father went to check on him shortly thereafter and found his son out on the street riding his bike. The father was upset and told the son, “It is dangerous on the street, I told you to not go past the curb.” The son went back into the yard and kept playing. Shortly thereafter, the father went to check on his son to once again find him playing on the street with cars passing by. The father this time was furious and yelled at his son, exclaiming, “I told you twice to not go past the curb! Go sit on your bed. You are in time-out!” The son replied, while crying, “But daddy….what is a curb?”
I have learned throughout my life that great communication is a rarity in most of our interactions. I have found this to be true especially in a professional setting where people often have a one-track mind to accomplish whatever task is on their mind and they often aren’t aware of others’ needs.
I have compiled three tips for improving communication that have helped me in my professional career, and I hope that they can help you as well.
What is Communication Exactly?
In order to talk about good communication, we need to briefly outline what communication is in this context. The image below shows the communication model that every student that has ever been in a communications class has memorized. There is a sender, let’s say that is you. Then there is the message you are sending. In this case let’s say that it is you speaking with another person in person about the latest episode of Bachelor in Paradise or your service that you are trying to present to them. Then there is the other person that you are chatting with, the receiver, who is supposed to understand the message and then respond to you to close the full communication loop.
Source: Alanis Business Academy
Ok! On to the 3 tips!
Shut Up & Listen!
I was at a networking event for a group called (Corporate Alliance) and I heard this quote that has stuck with me, “If words are coming out of your mouth, then you are not learning.”
In good communication there Is a sender, a receiver, and a message like the image above represents. If you are only sending and sending, or in other words, talking and talking, then you aren’t allowing half of the communication process to happen! After you share your message, or ask a question, you need to pause and wait for the response as the response is the whole purpose of your conversation up to that point! We have all been on sales calls or casual conversations where the other person just won’t shut up and every one of us hates it. It isn’t enjoyable.
You will gain more in asking a few well timed questions and then listening to the response than you will from busting through your feature and benefit set every single time. Ask them what they need help solving. Ask them what their biggest challenge is currently. Share your solution. Share the benefit. Then LISTEN to the feedback.
Example: I was speaking to a landscaper just last week. I told him that I could only have a tree that would grow to about 30 feet tall because of powerlines close to my home. Rather than listening to my feedback, he kept on talking about trees that he would recommend; all of which were massive trees that would grow more than 70 feet tall. Think I chose to work with him? Of course not.
Moral of the story: If you are thinking of your next talking point when the other person is speaking, or if you just keep on talking, then you aren’t listening. People will resent you rather than enjoy you. Let them talk! And when they do, listen, listen, listen.
Restate What They Said to You
After somebody has relayed a message of some kind to you, it is really helpful to restate what they said back to them to help make sure that you heard and interpreted them correctly. This is valuable for several reasons:
- It helps build trust in the other person as they see that you actually listened and understood what they said to you.
- It helps the other person feel valued that you weren’t distracted by any other white noise (TV, the text message you got, etc…)
- It helps YOU as you get to see that what you heard is correct so that you don’t start to answer a question or overcome an objective that wasn’t being raised.
Example: Imagine my appreciation if the landscaper had said, “OK – I just want to make sure that I understand. You have a powerline in the back of the yard so you can only have a tree that will max out at about 30 feet, right?” I would have said, yes, and then we would have had a productive conversation about which trees would work for that location. I would have felt understood, appreciated, and would most likely have purchased a tree from him.
Moral of the story: People want to feel understood. People want to feel that you heard them and then that you are trying to help solve their specific needs rather than assuming that you know what they need. Restating what they have communicated to you will help them feel valued and listened to.
Ask “Why?”….. A Lot.
People will often give an answer or thought that is surface level and is just enough information to get the person that they are interacting with to go away. The info they give usually isn’t enough to move the needle or let you know what they are really thinking. Sometimes this is because they just want to get us off the phone. Other times this is because it is a bit of a test and they want to see how good we are and if we are worth more of their time. These people want to see if we truly invest in them and their needs before they are willing to invest in us.
The best way to accomplish this is to ask “why?” a whole lot. These are all real “why questions” that I have asked in the last week or so.
- (While at a Mongolian grill restaurant) “Andrew, why didn’t you put any noodles into your stir-fry?” (turns out he was on a no carbs/high protein diet. I was able to then send some bagels and cream cheese to their office for his co-workers and an order of pulled pork for him which resulted in this tweet: insert image or tweet)
- (while on a discovery call) “Keith, from what you have expressed it sounds like the current group that you are working with is doing a pretty good job. Why are you looking to switch agencies?” (turns out the current agency does a terrible job with reporting and its’ a real pain point for him and his execs)
- (while on a discovery call) “Aaron, you used to work at a digital marketing agency. Why are you reaching out to us rather than calling the agency that you used to work with?” (found out that the agency he used to work for didn’t do work at a high enough quality level that he was looking for.)
Moral of the Story: Find out why. Find out why they are talking to you. Find out if they are talking to your competitor. Find out why they are drinking Diet Coke in the meeting rather than Coke Zero Sugar. Find out which school they went to. Find out why they went to that school. Find out why they are working for the group they are at now and why they love it or tolerate it. The more “why’s” that you are able to find out the more information you then have to help become or present a meaningful solution and help.
With the story about the father and son, the father told his son what to do but didn’t communicate well. Why? He didn’t communicate in a way with his son that his son could understand him. The father could have improved the situation by asking his son if he understood why it was dangerous to go past the curb. This could have helped his son understand what the curb was. The son could have stated back to his father what his father had told him and then said, “but dad….what is the curb?”
If any of the tips here were utilized it would have resolved a future issue. I know that by implementing any of these tips into your already good habits, your communication skills will improve and the results (more sales, fewer missed expectations or deadlines, etc…) will improve.
What are some tips that you have for me?