We all know what happened to the Titanic. Clearer communications could have prevented the tragedy and the loss of more than 1,500 lives. Communications plays just as important a role in progressing your career.
Here are some tips on how you can communicate more effectively with people at work, be they customers, colleagues, or your management team.
1. Beware of interrupting
Titanic wireless operator Jack Phillips interrupted a wireless message from a nearby ship, telling them to shut up. In doing so, he deterred that ship from sending Titanic an iceberg warning.
Be careful about interrupting others, particularly your customers. You learn more when you listen than you do when you talk. If you really feel you have to interrupt, at least tell the other person what you think his or her main idea was. That way, at least the other person has the opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding.
2. Be an active listener
Have you ever had the feeling you are talking to a brick wall? The person may, in fact, be listening, but when they remain blank faced and also offer no non-verbal clues, it’s truly hard to tell. Be involved with, and react to, what the other person is saying, either via a nod, or an “I see.” Better yet, paraphrase the other person’s statements. You’ll strengthen your own understanding and make a better impression.
3. Avoid negative questions
Suppose you say to a customer, “You don’t have Word installed?” and they answer “Yes.” What does he mean? Yes, you’re right, Word is not installed? Or yes, he does have Word installed?
So expressing your question in the negative creates confusion. It’s clearer if you phrase the question in positive terms: (e.g., “Do you have Word installed?”) or ask an open-ended question (“What applications do you have installed?”). If you must use the negative, try a question such as “Am I correct in saying that you don’t have Word installed?”
4. Be sensitive to differences in technical understanding
Determine your customer’s understanding before launching into lengthy explanations. If you use acronyms, be sure you identify what the acronym means. Praise your information to suit the person’s current knowledge; don’t talk over their head or talk down to them. Keep your eyes focused on the customer so as to check for clues that they don’t understand. If in doubt, ask your customer.
5. Use analogies to explain technical concepts
A good way to explain a technical idea is to use an analogy. Though they have limitations, analogies are helpful in explaining an unfamiliar idea in terms of a familiar one. One of the best analogies I ever heard compared a firewall to a bank teller. When you enter a bank, you don’t just go into the vault and get your money. Instead, you go to a window, where the teller verifies your identity and determines that you have enough money. The teller goes to the vault, brings it back to the window, gives it to you, and then you leave.
6. Use positive instead of negative statements
Your customers are more interested in what you can do for them than they are about your limitations. In other words, they’re interested in what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. Here’s an example: Instead of saying, “I can’t help you unless you log off, “try saying: “Please log off so that I can help you.”
7. Remember that technical problems involve emotional reactions
When customers have a technical problem (for example, they’re having trouble operating a piece of equipment), it can be very frustrating for them and they may even feel foolish. Keep in mind that they’ll almost always have an emotional reaction and these emotions can range from simple annoyance to outright panic, depending on the circumstances. Acknowledge and recognise these emotional reactions. If all you do is solve the technical problem and walk away, chances are the customer is leave feeling inadequate.
In these cases, simply saying something like, “Pain in the neck, isn’t it?” or “I hate when that happens to me.”