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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

Communication Requires a Two-Way Connection

How many times have you asked an employee to write a proposal or report, but he or she comes back with something totally off the mark? You wonder if he or she just messed up, or perhaps didn’t understand your instructions. If better communication is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, here’s some good advice from speech and communications experts who counsel business owners and executives.

“Most people have the ability to be a good listener if their mind isn’t cluttered, they agree with what’s being said, or if they like the person they’re with,” said Beverly Inman-Ebel, a speech pathologist and owner of a company called Talk Listen Communicate in Chattanooga, Tenn. “But if any one of these things isn’t happening, it’s difficult to listen accurately.”

Your body language, accent, word choice and even the way you swallow may be an obstacle to better communication, according to Inman-Ebel, who works with people working for big and small companies.

“I can be too direct or controversial in conversation, so we worked on limiting that,” said Anne Dozier, a manager of electronic business at Coca-Cola Enterprises and a client of Inman-Ebel.

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“She teaches you how to assess people, including yourself,” she said. “Within five minutes of meeting a person, you should know exactly how they want to be communicated with.”

Small Firms Benefit

Companies smaller than Coca-Cola also rely on Inman-Ebel’s expertise. An accounting firm in Dalton, Ga., hired her to help improve communications between their accountants and clients.

“It’s either right or wrong with accountants, because we’re all task-oriented,” said Gordon Morehouse, president of Morehouse, Gilbert, Carpenter and Watkins. “But she taught us to blend the facts with other issues like fostering a good environment, listening to people, not cutting them off, and encouraging more personal discussion.”

Inman-Ebel has some helpful tips for everyone interested in better business communication:

– Listen more than you talk. You have about two seconds to make the decision to listen. If you want to postpone the conversation, you’ve got to say that right away.

– Ask open questions starting with “how” or “what.” The “why” question usually puts people on the defensive, so avoid it.

– Be informative rather than opinionated. Avoid saying “no, it won’t work,” and try saying why it hasn’t worked.

– Give informative compliments. Describe what the person did, and then, tell him or her specifically how it helped the company.

Long-Term Change

Changing the way you communicate won’t happen overnight. In fact, Inman-Ebel says if you work on something every day, it takes 70 days to change your speech or behavior. She suggests telling your colleagues and friends that you are trying to improve your communication skills.

“Otherwise, they’re going to be suspicious about why you’re acting differently,” she said.

Once you’ve learned how to communicate better with employees, it’s time to deal with the outside world. Being your company spokesperson often means giving speeches, which terrifies most business owners.

“People assume that because they communicate on a daily basis, they should be able to speak in front of people without any preparation,” said Lilyan Wilder, a New York City-based author and speech coach.

Wilder suggests preparing a “mini-speech,” a short statement with a beginning, middle and an end, leaving intentional gaps for dialogue with the audience.

“Most people talk and then wait for the audience to ask questions , I disagree,” said Wilder. “I think that when you give a speech, you should be eager to be interrupted.”

According to Wilder, as soon as you begin speaking, you should wait for a response from your audience.

‘Give and Take’

“You want to keep getting responses throughout your presentation,” said Wilder. “The more give and take and the more interactive it is, the better.” This kind of conversational dialogue also helps alleviate the nerves most people experience, says Wilder.

Inman-Ebel, the business communication expert, believes a fear of public speaking is related to a poor self-image.

“There are a lot of people who believe that they’re not worthy, that they don’t have a talent for speaking in front of people,” said Inman-Ebel. “I’ve seen so many people turn that around because they simply stopped programming themselves negatively.”

Positive communication is one of the top five reasons people stay or leave a company, says Gay Alberts Ruby, a social worker and communication skills workshop facilitator in Milwaukee.

“If they don’t feel appreciated, they’re not going to stay with the job,” said Ruby.

If keeping good employees is also on your list of things to improve, learn how to praise.

Thank Yous

“Praising people doesn’t mean you have to give them a raise,” said Ruby. “A little note can say for that day, for that project, you are happy with what they did , and your employees deserve to know that.”

To do this, Ruby created “Communicare Cards,” small notes that say things like, “Thank You,” “Well Done,” “Congratulations” and “Good Teamwork.” Ruby says she came up with the idea to print up the cards while she was doing something totally unrelated to business.

“I began to think about alternative forms of communication when I volunteered at parent support groups,” said Ruby. “Divorced parents used to ask me how they could communicate more with their children. I realized we don’t have to speak face to face all the time.”

Around the office, people appreciate verbal recognition, especially if it’s shared in front of others, said Ruby. But a written note is powerful, because it can be kept.

“I believe that people hold on to notes,” said Ruby. “I do.”

Ruby sells her pack of 48 compliment cards for $3. For information, contact her at: rubybiz@execpc.com

Recommended reading:

– “Talk is Not Cheap: Saving the High Cost of Misunderstanding at Work and at Home,” by Beverly Inman-Ebel. (Bard Press).

– “7 Steps to Fearless Speaking,” by Lilyan Wilder. (John Wiley & Sons Inc).

– “Please Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How to Talk to Demanding Bosses, Clueless Colleagues, Tough Customers and Difficult Clients Without Losing Your Cool (Or Your Job!),” by Dr. Gary S. Goodman. (Contemporary Books).

Reporting by Julie Neal. Applegate is a syndicated columnist.

& #352; 2000 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


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