If communicating was simple, I’m sure we’d have more productive teams, make better decisions and speak our minds a little bit more. Why? Well, good communication skills are one of the most powerful assets you can bring to any situation, whether you want to interview members of your team, delivering perfectly executed messages to investors or really nail a sales pitch to a potential customer.
I’ve been guilty of being a poor communicator myself. And from experience, that affected both my personal and business life. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve tried my best to change my approach to make things better not just for me, but for everyone I work or chat with on a daily basis.
Here are five communication tips I’ve learned and implemented, and I’ve encouraged the Acquire team to do the same. Nobody is a perfect communicator, but we can all find something to work on.
1. Take a second to really listen
We actually have to listen before we respond. Have you ever said something important to someone, and they respond by trailing off toward something completely different? Annoying, I know.
How about when someone keeps talking and doesn’t allow you to put a word in or share your thoughts at the end? Remember, communication is a two-way interchange — not just a one-way road. Closing someone off from a conversation alienates them and alters the way they approach you in the future.
When someone is talking, we shouldn’t spend all of that time just thinking of what to say next — instead, we need to listen. And by listening, I mean, “actively listen.” The difference here is that with active listening, you’re using body language to show that you’re really taking in the other person’s message. Nodding your head in agreement, for example, is one of the most common gestures in conversation and a great way to show that you’re an active listener. Leaning forward is another great tactic.
I’ve seen individuals look at their phone screen and type who knows what while another person is talking, effectively closing that listener off from the conversation without them even saying a word. We know that nonverbal communication is incredibly important, which is why most of us can tell when someone is acting shifty (or just plain rude).
We tend to listen to people while also coming up with counterpoints to the conversation in our head. That’s human nature. Before changing up my communication approach, I can’t tell you how many times I would listen to somebody talking and pick up on something I would count as soon as they stopped! When you’re actively listening, though, you’re not wasting time building out those counterarguments. You’re thinking about what the other person is getting at.
Be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand the gist of what someone says. Don’t just keep nodding and think: “What did they just say?” Run things by them just to make sure you’re on the same wavelength: “So what I’m hearing you say is that you don’t like it when I leave the office without updating you about the worksheet status, correct?”
2. Learn how to give high-quality feedback
We end up giving more feedback during a working day than we think. Every time we tell someone to amend something, give thoughts or offer criticism, it’s a form of feedback. But giving truly constructive feedback is never easy.
Think about it for a moment: Growing up, we’re never really told how to give and receive feedback. Most of the time, children are just told to do something without any explanation as to why (“do this,” or “do that” is about the extent of it). It’s almost natural for us to have conversations in a similar way then, right?
When you’re giving feedback, one thing you can be sure of is your thoughts and opinions. There’s nothing wrong with that.
This is how I used to give feedback to colleagues at Acquire:
“You always give discounts and extend free trials the first time people ask. Why do you keep doing that?”
Whoops! That was confrontational. We’ve just gone into combat mode, and one person has to win here.
There’s only one way this conversation is going to go, and that’s downhill. The second we phrase feedback as “you do this” or “you always do that,” the receiving end puts their guard up. I was once told that when I’m frustrated, I block all logic and become defensive. I believe this is applicable to most people (hey, we don’t like our belief systems to be challenged).
Phrasing your feedback negatively is sure to frustrate the other person and doesn’t ensure that a problem will be addressed. The response from the other person will usually be in the form of a jab back at you: “Well, you lose customers because you don’t give discounts!” This literally becomes a “you do this” battle where nobody wins and nothing is really achieved. Unproductive, much?
As I said previously, if there’s one thing we can be 100% certain about when giving feedback, it’s what we feel and think. We need to use this information to determine how feedback should be structured.
In the spirit of positivity and productivity, let’s rephrase our old feedback:
“Hey reader, I feel that you’re giving too many discounts to customers. This is something I’d really like to discuss, and I want to know where you’re coming from. Is that ok?”
Trust me, this little rephrase will work its magic. Here, we’re not saying “you.” The other person doesn’t feel that you’re telling them what to do or that you’re attacking their actions. It fosters a real conversation instead of a fruitless battle. Nice!
“Sorry, yeah. Even I feel that I’ve given more discounts than usual this month, but it has only been for customers who love the product and want to move forward but are struggling with budget.”
In most cases, you’ll learn the real reason as to why things are happening the way they are. This drives conversations forward. And at Acquire, it has helped us make better business decisions because we understand what is really going on.
3. Be conscious of different perspectives
We always find it easier to understand something from our point of view. But does that mean that our perception is always best? Well, yes. And no. It’s a little bit more complicated than that.
I make it my duty to understand why a colleague or customer has a different point of view than me. This often boils down to a number of influences, including their knowledge base, their role at work (marketing folks might look at ROI differently than a member of the sales team, for example) or just their lived experiences. When building out new features for Acquire’s users, we take input from all sources and try to understand their frames of reference. This has helped us define elements in our business better and move forward as a whole.
Take time to understand why someone is approaching something from a completely different angle than yours. It’ll give you truly valuable insight.
4. Have a goal set before you kick things off?
This year, most conversations we’ve had internally and with customers usually start off with a goal in mind. It keeps conversations focused and ensures that there’s an outcome at the end of the chat. You can state the goal of any conversation at the beginning to clarify everything.
“I feel we are spending too much on Facebook. I’d like to discuss how we can calculate the ROI of each advertisement to see if the investment will help us in the long run.”
When conversations don’t have an outcome in mind, they usually don’t have an outcome at all. You end up going around in circles until someone has to leave (or you just realize it’s pointless and give up).
5. Don’t steer conversations towards yourself
A few years ago, a good friend of mine lost his job and took a turn for the worse financially. It was a chapter of his life that he’d rather forget. We spoke pretty often about this, and I would always try to help out and motivate him for the ensuing job hunt. I’d start these conversations by reminding him of how I lost the only two jobs I’d ever had, and that these things happen — it just takes time to get over the slump and get things back to normal.
In my mind, it was important that he knew we had similar experiences and could be on the same page. But one day, he snapped at me. “Ok, I get it,” he said. “You’ve been through it. You’ve lost more jobs than me and you’re in a better position now — good on you!
“Ok, I get it,” he said. “You’ve been through it. You’ve lost more jobs than me and you’re in a better position now — good on you!
The majority of the time, we communicate with people through the frame of our own experiences. It’s how we feel we can connect better and relate. It’s natural that we bring the conversation back to ourselves, even if it’s completely unintentional. Hopefully, you realize this as well.
When people connect on social platforms, people express their opinion openly, so it becomes even more difficult for the other party to reciprocate to their feeling. In many cases, the listener doesn't have a solution on hand, a quick way to provide instant relief is to respond to the questions quickly and deliver an accurate estimate of when a solution can be provided.
The interchanges below are great examples that demonstrate how this usually plays out.
A response that veers away from the actual problem:
Mary: “I’m so busy right now.”
Tim: “Me too. I’m totally overwhelmed with this UX project I started on Tuesday.”
A supportive and constructive response:
Mary: “I’m so busy right now.”
Tim: “How come? Are you working on something difficult at the moment?”
Here’s a great article that might influence your approach when trying to support someone.
Ah, communication. So simple, yet so convoluted!
Communication is just one of those skills that we continually have to work on to better ourselves, whether we want to ensure effective chats at work or really understand people we interact with in everyday life.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation that might lead to a difficult conversation, just remember these points. I’m sure one of them could help turn it into a positive experience.
Have you learned any crucial communication skills that would fit perfectly in this article? Message me directly. I’d love to chat.