When people are talking about successful people, others commonly speculate on how they achieved that success. Perhaps they were intelligent. They were innovative. They had the right connections or the right idea at the right time. Maybe they were just plain lucky. One of the most common descriptions of a successful individual, though, is that they are “great communicators.”
At Shapiro Negotiations, we talk a lot about developing an ability to communicate and even offer communication training. We can show you (and your team) how to be a better negotiator, a better salesman, a better communicator. But what does great communication really entail? What skills are involved in communicating clearly and effectively with someone, particularly with those who may not want to hear what you have to say?
In the following post, we’ll look into several important skills SNI can help you and your team to develop to improve your communications, both internally and externally.
Arguably the most important skill to acquire when you’re learning how to communicate well is how to be a good listener. And yet some people simply refuse to do it. People focus so intently on being heard and understood that they are simply incapable of understanding anyone else. Most people wait for their turn to talk rather than truly listen.
In the words of James Cash Penney, founder of the well-known J. C. Penney chain of department stores, “The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.” The first step in communication is for both parties to be speaking the same language. In order to do that, you need to be able to listen to and understand what the other person is saying. Anything else is just two strangers who may as well be shouting nonsense at each other, for all the good it will do.
When you listen to another person, that person will take notice. Attempting to understand what someone else wants grants them validation, permitting them to view you as a potential ally rather than an adversary. Suddenly, you aren’t two people fighting for opposing goals; you are two people who are working together to find an ideal situation for everyone involved.
In almost any environment, you’re going to come across people you may not agree with. It’s just the way human interaction goes. Fortunately, you don’t have to agree with everyone on every single matter.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t at least try to understand and respect other people’s opinions and points of view. This ties back into listening to the other person, and perhaps a step beyond. Hear what they other person is saying. Try to look beyond the words they are saying and find the meaning behind those words. Try to recognize what their reasons are for their belief. You don’t need to share the belief, but understanding from where their position stems will give you significant insight into how to keep the conversation civil and even productive.
Phrases like “I understand where you’re coming from” can demonstrate that you’re actively paying attention to the things the other person is saying. Actively acknowledge the emotions that the other party is feeling and you can reinforce the relationship you have been building.
The ability to discern and experience another person’s emotions will grant you the unique perspective of understanding both sides of the discussion. By seeing where both sides are coming from, you will be better able to predict where their goals intersect and guide the conversation to a successful solution.
While most of what we’ve discussed up to this point deals with understanding other people and discerning exactly what they want, it’s just as important to be able to make yourself understood. In order to be understood, you have to be able to take information and translate it into words and terminology familiar to someone else.
For example, a college professor has typically been studying his subject matter for years, if not decades. He understands the reasons behind all of the information he is teaching his students. He could take complex data and use it to analyze and predict results from future experiments.
His students, on the other hand, are new to the subject. They don’t have the benefit of his experience in his field or of his years of research. They don’t have the context he has gained over time as he has been exposed to his material. To get through to them, he has to figure out how to explain the material to them in words that they will understand.
The same is true in almost any sort of interaction. People live such radically different lives that some experiences familiar to one person might be completely foreign to another. Figuring out what words, phrases, or contexts will resonate with the other party will enable you to get your point across and be understood.
Clarity is the ability to speak in such a way that people understand your meaning. “Say what you mean, and mean what you say,” as the old adage directs. Speak simply, speak clearly, and say exactly what you intend. Speaking in a roundabout fashion can be off-putting for several reasons, any of which can bring a negotiation to a crashing halt.
People have notoriously short attention spans. Most people are willing to grant a little bit of leeway, but if you drag on, eventually they’re just going to tune you out. You may be an expert on your subject material, but it won’t matter. If no one is listening, then does it really make a difference anymore what you say?
The other thing to keep in mind is that if you are not precise or seem to talk in circles, it can discourage people from trusting you. If it’s difficult to make out what you’re saying, it may seem like you’re hiding something. If you are able to boil down a complicated concept into just a few words, on the other hand, it is a good sign that you really know what you’re talking about.
5. Body Language
The words you say to other people are only a portion of the way you communicate with them. The way you hold yourself, the way you move, where you look, and even the tone of your voice—all of these can contribute to the way your message is received. You may have had a conversation in the past where an upset party snapped, “It’s not what you said. It’s how you said it!” Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, proposes that there are three elements that account for how positively people respond to someone else’s communication. Only 7 percent of the response is based upon the other person’s words, while 38 percent is based on their tone of voice, and the remaining 55 percent is based on body language.
When interacting with others, be aware of the subtle signals you may be sending to people. Avoiding eye contact gives off a sense that you are either uninterested or are hiding something. Staring, on the other hand, can make people uncomfortable. Standing too closes seems overly aggressive, while turning your body away from the other person can make you seem aloof.
By presenting yourself in a more open fashion, you can encourage others to let down their guards a little bit and be more open with you in return. Pay attention to your hand gestures, whether or not your arms are crossed, even the subtle noises you make in acknowledgment of what someone else has said.
At the same time, keep an eye on how other people are responding to what you say. If they seem to be losing interest or becoming defensive, it may be time to rethink your strategy. If they are not looking you in the eye, they may be uncomfortable. Try not to make quick assumptions based on body language, because it can be very easy to misinterpret; however, be aware of it as you continue your conversation.
6. Interpersonal Connection
Interpersonal connection involves the ability to forge common bonds with others. It doesn’t always need to include a clear goal; sometimes, connecting for connection’s sake can have the biggest payoff in the end. Find a common link with the other person, but don’t be invasive or fake. Get to know them, and help them get to know you.
Show that you have value. Give them a reason to trust what you’re saying. Any connection you build, even one that seems unimportant in the moment, could lead to other opportunities down the line.
Try to find something in common with the other person, something you can connect over. What similarities do you share? Interests? Histories? Find some way to connect.
Daniele Varè, an Italian diplomat and author, once wrote that “diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.” It is a way of guiding the conversation in a particular direction without putting the other person on the defensive. There is a delicate balancing act involved in making sure that all points are heard and acknowledged while no feelings are hurt.
If you accidentally offend someone, diplomacy also involves the ability to defuse a potentially volatile situation. Validate the other person’s thoughts and feelings. Even if you don’t agree with them, acknowledging those feelings can go a long way. People want to be understood, and if you try to push them in a certain direction without putting in the work to understand them, it can lead them to become obstinate and refuse to work with you.
Sometimes, diplomacy involves moving the discussion to a later time. If the situation has already become intense, it may be best for everyone involved to take a break and reconvene at a later time. Depending on the situation, this break could be as long as a week or two or as short as five minutes. The important part is that everyone has the opportunity to process their emotions and return when they are all calm. Remain non-confrontational throughout the process, and take care to avoid accusatory or emotionally-charged phrases like “You’ve got to be kidding!” or “There’s no way!” Simply saying “No,” can convey the same information without putting the other party on edge.
We’ve placed this skill last, but that certainly doesn’t mean it is the least important. Honesty is at the heart of all productive communication. And while honesty may not necessarily seem like a skill at first, it is actually crucial to develop it in your communication.
If you are dishonest with someone, whether that person is a coworker, a boss, someone with whom you do business, or a close personal relationship, it breeds anxiety in you and distrust from others.
While it may sometimes be tempting to be dishonest with others in order to gain an advantage, any benefit that comes of it will be temporary at best. In the long term, dishonesty will burn bridges behind you and drag your reputation through the mud.
If you build a reputation for being honest, though, even in situations where it might not benefit you, you will build goodwill among those you know, and eventually it can even spread to people you have never met. If you are honest, the relationships you build will be on firmer ground, and any agreements you have with others will be more likely to stand.
At Shapiro Negotiations, we recognize just how important it is to be able to communicate well. It’s the basis on which all relationships stand. The ability to express yourself clearly and understand what others are saying will help you to build stronger relationships, both personal and in the workplace.
One last key tip when it comes to communicating with others: respect. Respect the people with whom you are interacting. Recognize that, while their histories and viewpoints may differ from yours, that doesn’t make them any less valid. Respect the businesses with whom you are doing business. The fact that you are negotiating with them is evidence that they have something that you want, which means there are probably several things you could stand to learn from them.
And, of course, respect yourself. Respect yourself to be honest in the ways you interact with people. Respect yourself to be willing to understand the reasons behind your viewpoints and opinions. Respect yourself enough to figure out more than one way to get your point across so that you can communicate with a wide variety of people. And respect yourself to be willing to continue to grow and improve.
We at Shapiro Negotiations can give you and your team the training you need to improve your communication skills and build stronger relationships with others. For more information, fill out the form below. We’d love to work with you.