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A Look at Some of the Most Important Communication Skills for Almost Any Situation

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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.

 

1. Listening

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.

 

2. Empathy

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.

 

3. Translation

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.

 

4. Clarity

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.

 

7. Diplomacy

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.

 

8. Honesty

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.

 




3 Ways to Become a Better Active Listener

Jeff Cochran

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Being an active listener is important, whether it is in a meeting with the perfect client or in a negotiation with a raging lunatic. It encourages trust by showing that you care about what the other party is saying. Listening shows that you are not simply hearing what they are saying, but actually processing the information and taking it seriously. And it may preempt misunderstandings before they create problems. Here are 3 ways to become a better active listener.

  1. Put the technology away

It’s hard to disconnect, especially during work hours. But it is essential to minimize distractions during conversations to ensure that the people you are meeting with know that you value their time and opinions. By putting the technology away, you increase the likelihood of giving the other party 100% of your attention. Instead of using a computer or notebook to take notes, try using pen and paper to decrease distractions. If a computer is necessary, store necessary files on the desktop and turn the internet off to avoid the temptation of checking that new email or answering a lingering text.

  1. Repeat important statements in your own words

Repeating important concepts or statements in your own words serves multiple purposes. If the other party agrees with your reiteration, it shows that you are engaged in the conversation and received the message as intended. If the other party notes a discrepancy in what was said and what you said, it may help preempt miscommunications before they turn into problems by showing that something was lost in translation.

For example, if a client says “I would take $4 million for two,” you should repeat the statement as you understood it by saying, “So you would like $2 million for each.” If the intention was to get $4 million for each of the two, getting clarification could help avoid a huge misstep.

  1. Ask questions

Besides the obvious goal of getting answers, asking questions serves similar purposes as restating important messages. It shows that you are listening to the speaker and want to make sure you understood what they said. And it gives you the opportunity to clear up any discrepancies before they become full-blown misunderstandings. When an answer is given, it may help to repeat it in your own words to make sure that it cleared up any lingering questions.

Similar to the previous example, if a client says, “I would take $4 million for two,” you could ask, “Is that $4 million for each or $2 million for each equaling $4 million?” Again, this will clarify the client’s goal and avoid a mistake moving forward.

 

For more on how to become an active listener, check out The Power of Nice, which discusses how to participate, engage, and personalize to become a better negotiator, faster.

Navigating Negotiation Stalemates

Jeff Cochran

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Every businessperson has experienced a negotiations stalemate. Compromise has faltered, neither party is willing to budge, and there is nothing more to say. A successful negotiator knows the way out of a stalemate and how to seal the deal.

Stay Professional and Keep the Client

Before trying to get your opposition to budge, think hard about what you are willing to do to keep this client. Make sure you are being smart about considering compromise. What is the smallest concession you are willing to make? Is this concession worth keeping the client? Negotiation isn’t always about getting your way on everything, sometimes to get what you want, you have to know and help them get what they want.

Your tone should remain professional, no matter how heated the negotiations become. Be courteous. Avoid the “buts” – saying, “I understand your point, but …” just tells your opposition that you are rejecting their points. Shift the conversation to finding joint solutions. Ask them, “How can we make this work?” Build relationships is much more profitable in the long run than burning bridges in one deal.

Breaking the Barrier

You’ve made all the concessions you are willing to make. Now is the time to break through your opposition’s objections. The first step is to understand the other person’s stumbling block. Get this information by being honest about your sticking point. This invites them to tell you why they aren’t budging. You will be able to address their concerns from this information.

If you aren’t getting anywhere at the negotiating table, it may be time to shift focus. The key is to change the context of the conversation to something else for a while. Get the client out of the combative mindset by suggesting a break. This allows you to engage with the opposition in a social context and gives them a chance to get to know you on a personal level. You can also talk about future business opportunities your two organizations might share in the future. More important, it gets them out of the adversarial mindset.

Power Moves

Breaking up the negotiations when they have stalled may be your only option. If you have the upper hand at the time, you can suggest a cooling off period. This is a better move to make when you know your opponent wants the deal more than you do. The prospect that you are willing to walk away may be all that is necessary to get the other party to budge.

If you don’t have the advantage in negotiations, it is still possible to shake up the negotiations by buying some time. Telling the opposition that you would like a legal opinion is a card you can always play. Most business-people understand the need for legal advice. This keeps your negotiations open and buys both of you some cooling-down time.

Keep an Ace in the Hole

When all else fails, you should always have a trick up your sleeve. Before you go into negotiations, prepare something you can use to push stalled negotiations over the edge. Use alternatives. A deal, a discount, or a special offer can go a long way to closing the deal.

Listening: The Golden Rule of Successful Negotiations

Jeff Cochran

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You know the feeling of frustration you get when you know you aren’t being heard? It’s the same feeling your potential client has when you place more importance in the pitch you’ve prepared than what he or she has to say during a negotiation. Negotiation is about striking a balance—this isn’t possible without hearing both sides. If you don’t know how to effectively listen, potential clients will stop trying to communicate altogether.

The Importance of Listening

It’s in many peoples’ nature to talk too much when they’re nervous. Silence can feel uncomfortable during a negotiation, so negotiators strive to fill the silence with their own voice. Unfortunately, this habit gives clients the impression you aren’t interested in hearing what they have to say. Instead of nervously filling conversation gaps with empty words, try to listen.

Studies show that people spend 60% of an average conversation talking about themselves. You is a subject you know and feel good about discussing. Reverse the situation, and realize your potential client would also like to spend 60% of the conversation talking about him or herself. Now you may understand why listening is often better than talking during a negotiation.

Talking about the self encourages feelings of motivation and reward. When you allow potential client to talk about their own needs, wants, and feelings, you’re encouraging these positive feelings. Truly listening to a client makes an enormous difference in how they perceive you and your company. Practice good listening techniques, and train your employees to do the same.

Practice Active Listening

True listening is active. It’s a dynamic process that involves acknowledgement, inquiry, and restatement. It’s not static listening while your potential client talks. Psychologist John M. Grohol describes active listening as a skill that “builds rapport, understanding, and trust.” He has a few tips on how to become a better listener:

  • Summarize what you’ve heard
  • Use brief conversation prompts to show you’re listening
  • Repeat things the client says in your own words
  • Ask probing questions to draw more information from the client
  • Take advantage of silence
  • Avoid distraction while the other person is talking
  • Provide feedback to clarify certain points

Active listening not only shows your client that you care about what he or she to say, but it will also ultimately allow you to respond to clients’ needs more thoroughly. Listening is a skill that requires constant practice to keep up. If you master effective listening techniques, you’ll engage more fully with clients and reap the benefits of their appreciation: new business.

How to Turn Your Sales Force Into Expert Negotiators

Jeff Cochran

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Your company perfected your training process over years of trial and error. You’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, hitting all the fine points to create your industry’s next top negotiators. You’re probably proud of your training model and plan on using it for the foreseeable future. But you may be missing a major component: the art of teaching habits instead of just methods.

Habits: The Missing Link in Negotiations Training

When you’re under pressure, what’s the first thing you resort to? The answer is most likely habits, an instinctual reaction in stressful situations. During high-pressure negotiations, your meticulously trained sales force may forget the methods you taught them—but they won’t forget their own habits. You have the ability to mold their habits into ones that are beneficial to your company and geared toward closing a sale during negotiation.

Turning your sales force into expert negotiators takes more than giving them a list of best practices. You need to focus on the how to negotiate on top of the what to do during negotiations. Your sales team must be able to take client objections in stride without resorting to bad habits such as becoming embarrassed, backing down, or apologizing. Your sales team should enter negotiations with confidence, and habits that will help them succeed.

What Are the Best Negotiation Tools and Habits?

According to a recent article by Neil Patel on Forbes.com, the best negotiation habits to teach employees are those based around human interactions. In other words, habits stemming from body language, personal relationships, and good-natured discussion. At its core, negotiation is the art of convincing another person to agree with what you’re saying. When you establish a few simple habits for your employees to resort back to under pressure, you can enter a negotiation with relative certainty as to how personnel will react.

So what are the best negotiation habits to instill in your staff? Here are a few pointers to lead you in the right direction:

  • Engaging body language. For example, leaning into the conversation instead of leaning back in your chair can express openness and attention.
  • Keeping quiet. A common bad habit for many salespeople is to chatter when they feel stressed. Train your sales force to take the time to absorb information given to them, slow down, and keep responses calm instead of jumpy.

See if you can shape your staff’s habits to model the habits of confident, calm negotiators—and reap the benefits of cultivating a training process that focuses on the how and not just the what.

How to Sell to Businesses With These 4 Probing Questions

Jeff Cochran

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The questions you ask during a sales pitch or negotiation can make or break your chance of success. Learning which questions to ask can give you and your sales team a better likelihood of getting the response you want. Asking probing questions during a negotiation is the most effective way to gain momentum, as it gives you the opportunity to learn more about your client and pitch to him or her in a way that hits home.

  1. Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are infinitely more powerful than closed questions. “Are you looking for a new supplier?” results in a situation wherein the client can only answer “yes” or “no.” It leaves no room for the detailed answer you need to make headway with a sale. “What are you looking for in a new supplier?” gives you room to push a sale even if the client didn’t know he or she needed a new supplier.

  1. Open Opportunity Questions

It’s important for you to give potential clients a say during a sales pitch. Although your company is the one doing the pitching, letting a client speak about what they want from you will let them know you’re listening and responding to their needs. Ask questions such as, “What do you think of this solution?” instead of “How about this solution?” to encourage them to give a detailed response. Listen to every part of the response, and use the information to your advantage.

  1. Loaded Questions

If you can skillfully execute a loaded question, it can subtly push potential clients in the desired direction. Ask questions that prompt certain responses, such as “How are you liking your current supplier?” Almost imperceptibly, you’re implying that there may be something wrong with your potential client’s current supplier. If you instead say, “Tell me how you like your new supplier,” you’re pushing the client towards a more positive response—leaving less room for you to show them how you’d be a better fit.

  1. Thought-Provoking Questions

We’ve saved the most important category for last: thought-provoking questions. Questions about your potential client’s thought process are probing enough to gauge insight into a person without prying. Ask a client to provide more detail about his or her process, or ask how he or she reached a certain conclusion. Let the client know you’re truly interested in what he or she has to say, and listen to his or her response carefully. When you ask deep, probing questions during a sales pitch, you establish yourself as an expert negotiator.