What You See is What You Hear
The key element of all successful businesses is quality communication. Communication actually needs to be more than just “quality”; it needs to be open, frank, concise, succinct, respectful and illuminating. It needs to be so honest that it is even scary at times. So many missteps in business come from a lack of clearly understanding the current situation, the customer’s position, an employee’s needs or the nature of a dispute. So many of these challenges are easier to address than we realize if they are clearly understood by all parties involved.
If the root of the problem is so simple, why does it continue to be such a pain in the ass? Well, there are more than a few reasons for this and we will address some of them here in no particular order of importance.
Questions & Answers
The first is a failure to ask. A well thought-out question can be a key that unlocks a myriad of doors. One of the amazing things about questions is they are rarely offensive, unlike statements of fact that are often a cause for debate. Questions offer people an opportunity to give their opinion in a safe atmosphere, which leads to a higher level of honesty. That honesty results in even greater understanding.
Think about your employees for a moment. Imagine a discussion in which you asked them for their opinion on a critical decision you are about to make. Two things will surprise you. One will be the employee’s willingness to give you input. In fact, they will most likely be thrilled you asked. The second will be the level of insight your employees possess. Too often we miss the opportunity to glean information from those who are right beside us. Remember, these are the folks who are in the trenches fighting beside you every day. They may have just the right bit of information that completes the puzzle. Also, make it a habit to listen to those closest to you regarding the thoughts and feelings of other employees.
A powerful step is to ask your people how they are doing. We don’t mean a cursory “How’s it going?” as they walk through the door but an actual inquiry into their personal happiness and well-being. It is amazing how many dealers lose good people because they didn’t even know the person was unhappy. Be friendly and engage your people on a personal level. Share hobbies. The old bowling night is always an option. Heck, we skydive together!
One of the best questions you can ask an employee is “What keeps you here?” Wouldn’t any business owner want to know the motivation behind each employee’s decision to remain with the company? Don’t assume it’s just because they need a job. More often than not the reasons are much more complex. Find out what they are and you will have a valuable tool to aid in motivating and retaining your best people. Ask your team to describe their personal goals and aspirations. Ask them what they expect from you as the boss. The more you know, the more you can do to affect the success of your entire organization.
It is said that a definition of terms is critical to any form of communication. Although you may speak the same language as the person with whom you are talking, chances are the same words don’t always mean the same thing.
We each have a personal dictionary developed over years of experience with people, places and activities. Many of the words we use are open to interpretation. If we want to be absolutely clear it is essential to define these words for our audience.
For example, as an owner of the company you stand before your team and exclaim, “We are looking forward to a very successful year!” Successful is one of those words that can have many meanings. Your sales manager imagines you are looking for substantial sales growth. Your operations guy assumes you mean you are going to open another location. Your controller believes you want to improve your asset-to-debt ratio, and the installers figure you are simply trying to survive through the current economic downturn. Keep in mind that the interpretation of an 18-year-old will often be radically different from that of a 40-year-old. When in doubt, redefine in simple terms and then ask your audience what you have told them. Their response will be the ultimate test.
Not What, But How
Anytime you are speaking with someone face-to-face, the words you use are dramatically overshadowed by your tone of voice and your body language. If you don’t believe this is true, ask your dog. Although they don’t recognize a word, outside of possibly their own name, dogs clearly understand what you mean by the tone of your voice and the look on your face.
And yet what parent has not exclaimed, ”Don’t use that tone with me!” at some point in their life. Better yet, how many of us in the middle of a heated discussion have heard the words, “I know that’s what you said but that’s not what you meant!” These types of statements are the direct result of the power of our nonverbal communication. With only words as an option, it is no wonder that our current infatuation with e-mail causes so many misunderstandings.
Effective communication in business is as critical as capital or cash flow. We challenge you to place more emphasis on it. As always, there are plenty of great books and online resources that can help you and your team improve the level and quality of your communication. The most successful companies share a common understanding of what is important to every member of the organization. Make each person feel important and that same attitude will translate to your team’s interaction with your customers. CR