The Last Word

By: Dr. Jac Fitz-Enz

So many problems are blamed on communication that there must be some truth to the claim. Granted, in some cases the issue is avoidance or misinterpretation of the real problem. Nevertheless, one-on-one interpersonal communication – especially at a corporate level – is not a simple task.

I was painfully reminded of this recently when I ordered a kitchen garden window for the house I am remodeling. I gave the vendor the measurements over the phone and described the window. As an amateur in the window business, I didn’t know that there is a bay window somewhat similar to a garden window. Being in a hurry, I probably didn’t listen as well as I should. Guess what? This week a bay window arrived. I think I have learned my lesson.

That’s Not What I Meant

Communication is the most pervasive of all human interpersonal activities. Other than breathing or sleeping, we spend more time on nonverbal and verbal communication than anything else. Think about it. Simple statements such as, “Good morning,” can convey a message beyond the words. Little comments like that are called phatic communications. They are conversational speech more about sociability than about information. But that’s not all. Looks, posture, gestures, nods, shrugs and even silence are all forms of communication. How many times have you been in a public place with a friend and remarked about someone’s posture or gestures? What about your posture and gestures? Communication is constant and often unspoken. In short, we cannot not communicate.

Pay Attention to Yourself

Communication is not the other person’s problem. Audit your communication style. Are you somewhat abrupt and to the point, especially when you are busy and people are bugging you? Or are you a Chatty Cathy or Charlie? I play golf with a very nice fellow who is a good golfer, but he never – I mean never – stops talking. Someday someone is going to part his hair with a 5-iron.

Nonverbally, are you gruff? When someone offers you something you don’t want, like a drink or food, do you just shake your head without looking at them, or do you say, “No, thank you”? Nonverbal communication was a very hot topic years ago, but has been neglected lately. We need to revisit it because the world is getting more hectic. As pressure mounts, we put people off when we don’t mean to. We hurry, don’t listen and sometimes order something we didn’t really want.

Winning Ways

As always, the golden rule applies. Wait a minute. Before you brush this off, give it some thought. Ask yourself, what is the goal of any particular communicative event?

Acknowledging someone with a simple “Hi, there,” trying to make friends, showing an interest in someone and their interests, conveying information, asking a question, gaining support for an idea – how important is each communication?

One of my favorite ways to examine my behavior is to ask myself, “How would I do this if I really cared?” I sometimes use it with customer service people who quote rules or don’t seem inclined to help. I ask, “What would you do if you really wanted to solve this problem?” Nine times out of 10, they do something to my satisfaction. The 10th person just hangs up.

Another way to improve communication is to reverse the situation and ask yourself. “If I were that person, how would I want to be addressed, what are my interests and what problems am I struggling with?” Many moons ago, I did my doctoral dissertation on corporate communications as viewed by employees. Rather than think about what we are trying to sell people, why not ask them what it is they want and need to hear? Also, who do they want to hear it from and in what medium? We found that the more important the topic, the more employees want to hear it face to face from their boss.

The final point is that you don’t have to have the last word to be successful. A truly effective communication often ends with the other person or people repeating or rephrasing what it was you said to them. Then you know you got your point across and you made the sale.

About the Author:

Dr. Jac Fitz-Enz is Founder and CEO of the Human Capital Source and Workforce Intelligence Institute.

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