Hello SOTGC community,
Communication is the vehicle used, among other things, to develop and maintain relationships. As such, it is important to be mindful of how well we use it in everyday life and the impact it makes on others. In business, proper communication allows us to build rapport, connect with customers, and develop lasting relationships within our professional communities. When poorly executed, the opposite can take effect resulting in loss of sales, strained relationships with peers and even isolation. Conversation skills are especially important to acquire as there is no ability to backspace or delete! In a busy work environment, you are often required to “think on your toes” even when you are not at your best. Choosing your words carefully (and your tone) is critical to ensuring a positive outcome.
Allow me to tell a short story. I had a coworker once who was genuinely positive every day, but not in a sickening way. She always looked for the bright side in a situation and found ways to sooth an otherwise tense environment. The company was large and our managers’ meetings consisted of twenty-six midlevel and upper level managers. I always looked for her to be present and tried my best to sit near her (just to feel her positive energy). You see, our company president, who usually conducted the meetings, always started with a negative tone before turning it over to any other presenter. And at every opportunity to interject, he would ask a challenging question that was meant to leave you looking stupid and feeling inadequate. This particular coworker (we’ll call her Ada) would try her best to bring the mood up and step in whenever possible to change the focus away from individuals (who were under attack) to the actual legitimate problem. I always looked forward to her informal meeting summaries because without them, I/we just felt beat up.
Ada had an unusual knack for making most things positive without being that too-happy person that people run from. In fact, she was considered our company cheerleader and sort of a mother figure to the younger staff. Ada had been with the company for more than twenty years. And while she was a wealth of knowledge about the company’s services, its history and its clients, she was also an expert on people skills. As a manager and supervisor of a large staff, Ada was pulled in multiple directions throughout her work day. Maintaining her composure and mastering the art of conversation – especially in crisis – was her forte.
In watching Ada interact with others, I could see how she had fine-tuned her communication skills over the years and was seemingly thoughtful about every word. Here is what I learned from Ada about conversation skills.
Listen well. This is your best weapon against misunderstandings and potentially grave errors. It does not matter how busy you are, take the time to really listen and you will avoid problems later. Others feel slighted when you do not give your full attention, which can hinder the relationship moving forward. You may be met with a lack of interest or cooperation when it is your turn to be heard. Poor listening can also result in costly mistakes that impact the organization’s reputation or bottom line.
Never argue. We all have a difference of opinion from time to time. However, the way in which you express your disagreement is crucial. You may (calmly) debate the accuracy of facts with the intent of seeking to resolve an issue. Arguments, however, stem from emotional responses that can quickly veer out of control and end up in personal attacks. Stating your difference of opinion (or fact) in a composed, mannerly way is more likely to get you heard than an impassioned response that makes you look out of control. Sometimes an immediate response is not even necessary. Take the time to think clearly and present your case, either in conversation or in writing.
Know when to apologize. We all make mistakes. But to cover it up is the greater sin. And it is in poor taste, especially when confronted. Ladies, we have an easier time apologizing than men do (statistically, not mere opinion). The key, however, is knowing when an apology is needed. It should by no means be a part of your regular communication style to apologize for insignificant things, which shows a lack of confidence and undermines your position as a leader and effective communicator. And remember, a sincere apology never comes with excuses or a justification.
Avoid gossip like the plague. It is easy to get lured into office gossip, especially when there is fear in uncertain times or someone leaves the company very unexpectedly. Then there is the kind of gossip that is just personal slander. Both are to be avoided like the plague. A not-so distant cousin to gossip is complaining, which usually invites gossip to the conversation. Always present legitimate concerns in proper form with the proper audience. Take time to consider who that may be as well as your method and timing of communication for best results. The old “misery loves company” will only look bad on you and can backfire if your audience and gossiping partner betrays your confidence.
Share the spotlight. Small talk is a part of work and social life. Be careful not to talk too long about yourself. If your only goal is to have others impressed by you, then they probably won’t be! Show sincere interest in your conversion partner by asking open-ended questions and attentively listening – with eyes and ears. And though it may be tempting to jump into their story to share a time when you had a similar experience, exercise restraint. Only share your account when it is really relevant, perhaps helpful in problem-solving. The same goes for meetings; share the floor.
Talk on the level of your audience. Don’t use complex or unfamiliar terminology unnecessarily and never without an explanation. You may be perceived as show-boating or simply out of touch with your audience. This is especially important when attending a social networking event where people are gathered from multiple industries. Your use of acronyms and jargon may disconnect you with your audience and will impede an otherwise valuable exchange.
Give and receive compliments. Everyone appreciates knowing that they are performing well and that someone noticed. And who doesn’t like a compliment about choice of style. Just be sure that in response to a compliment received that you do not ramble; a simple “thank you” will suffice. Be mindful not to insult the compliment giver by rejecting the compliment – essentially telling the person that he or she is lying or has poor judgment. Yikes! Graciously accept the praise and move on. And note that one compliment does not automatically deserve another. Share compliments freely and sincerely when they are deserved.
Always use diplomatic language and a respectful tone. No matter the issue, all things can and should be presented in the most respectful way. Avoid words that sound like belittling or in some form a personal attack. Diplomacy is critical to maintaining healthy work relationships and teamwork.
Ada taught me that strength, respect, and cooperation come first from self-awareness and secondly from the ability to draw others in by demonstrating etiquette in our everyday conversation skills. I hope these points serve as helpful reminders to you as well.
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