The start of the new year is the perfect time to break bad habits and establish new ones. In the ways we communicate with our customers and others in our professional lives, we have all developed habits that are comfortable but may not always be optimal. As we start the new year, I’d like to propose a challenge: step outside your communications comfort zone. Test new communication methods that might not feel natural or comfortable. Venture outside your communications comfort zone and see what happens.
PICK UP THE PHONE OR JUMP ON A PLANE
Let’s start with email and text, which are collectively referred to as digital communication. There is no doubt that emailing and texting are often easier than picking up the phone to call someone. And digital communication is definitely easier than an in-person visit. You send the email or text, and then it’s on to the next thing. There is no need to wait for a callback. Also, you can craft the exact message you want without having to improvise on the fly. Added bonus: you can send the message to several people at once. So, yes, digital communication has probably made our lives easier. (I say probably because they also require us to process and respond to exponentially more information than we’ve ever had to before.)
Can strong relationships develop solely with “to the point” digital communications that recant supposedly wasteful small talk?
While digital communication is convenient, many of us — myself included — rely on this method of communicating much too often when interacting with others in our professional lives. The downside of email and text is that things often get misunderstood, because we can’t hear the tone in customers’ voices or see subtle shifts in their body language. I also feel that people are more judicious about what they say in person. Like an angry driver, once we’re behind our metal and digital walls, we feel like we have more licenses to vent our fury. When we see an online conversation heading south, it’s definitely time to take it offline. And even better would be if we could anticipate a conversation that has the potential to go off the rails and take it offline from the get go.
Hey, but what about the text-addicted Millennials who are rapidly overtaking the workforce? Their natural go-to’s are text and email because digital communication is what they are accustomed to. After all, they grew up with it and don’t know any different. In fact, some Millennials strongly believe that phone calls are truly an inferior method of communication. Millennial Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers wrote an article in 2014 titled, “Emails Only, Please: 10 Reasons Phone Calls Are a Waste of Time.”1 DeMers does a good job of describing the strengths of email versus phone calls. While I agree with the majority of what he shares, there is one point made by DeMers that I take issue with — his contention that the small talk necessary in phone calls is a complete waste of time. Really? Can strong relationships develop solely with “to the point” digital communications that recant supposedly wasteful small talk?
AIM YOUR MESSAGE TO THE RECIPIENT’S GENERATION
Lest you think I’m just another cranky Baby Boomer who’s prejudiced against Millennials, I still believe that the most effective communicators do consider the generation to which their message’s recipient belongs. In some situations, it may be clear-cut as to whether an analog or digital mode of communication is indicated. But if you’re not sure, the recipient’s generation may be the tiebreaker.
Besides being more effective talkers, let’s also aim to be better listeners in 2018. According to Dianna Booher, author of the Huffington Post article “6 Bad Communication Habits That Annoy Customers,” sales training classes suggest a ratio of 70% listening to 30% talking.2 According to Booher, “Salespeople often THINK this ratio happens, but only the best MAKE it happen. Record your next sales conversation and verify for yourself.” If you’re talking too much, you’re making the meeting with the client more about you and your product than about the customer and his or her issues. If you want to show customers how you can solve their problems, you need to understand their problems. And that requires good listening.
So, how can you become a better listener? They key is to devote more of your attention to what the other person is saying than to what your response is going to be. That sounds tough. How am I supposed to have a brilliant response if I haven’t been working on it while you’ve been talking? The answer is to pause after the other person finishes speaking and then formulate your response.
I admit that listening more than talking is going to be tough for me; I’m from New York, after all. But I want to be a better listener, so I’m willing to give it a try. And so should you. Cheers to new goals in the new year!
- DeMers J. Emails only, please: 10 reasons phone calls are a waste of time. Forbes. Available at: forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2014/08/27/emails-only-please-10-reasonsphone-calls-are-a-waste-of-time/#2493be07310d. Accessed December 1, 2017.
- Booher D. 6 bad communication habits that annoy customers. Huffington Post. huffingtonpost.com/entry/6-bad-communication-habits-that-annoycustomers_us_59b293d8e4b0d0c16bb52bdb. Accessed December 1, 2017.
From MENTOR. January 2018;9(1): 10-11.