Communication is something we often take for granted. We constantly expect the other person to understand what we are talking about. Yet we may get frustrated at being misunderstood by some people and it is not so obvious that in business you may meet people who are interested in what you have to offer but have no idea about what you are talking.
The need for flexibility in communication
Between two people, whose responsibility is it for communicating effectively?
To me the answer is simple. It is the person who wants to be understood. If your prospect was desperate for your product and services and there were no alternatives then it could be a different matter. There are few monopolies left these days and it is unlikely that any existing ones will last forever.
It does not matter what you think you have communicated, all that matters is what has been understood. We have already covered how your words can be saying one thing and your body language saying something completely different.
As I work with a lot of people involved in information technology you can imagine that jargon can be a problem. On one particular sales visit I was with a person selling web design. He was visiting the managing partner of a firm of architects. It was clear from the beginning that the architect was not very familiar to websites. He used email and he looked at sites on the internet to get information but had never seen the need for a website. Yet the web designer proceeded to use a lot of jargon, some of which I had not even heard of.
This web designer was used to speaking to people in IT departments of larger companies who speak the language of IT. Here he was using the same language and the prospect was looking more and more confused. Each time a piece of jargon was used he was wondering what that meant and probably was not listening to what followed.
On the other hand, you may need to understand the jargon of the industry – it could add credibility. If it is expected and you do not know it then you could find yourself at a disadvantage. The key thing is to remain flexible.
Levels of detail
The classic area for communication problems arises when two people have different levels of detail with which they are comfortable. Some people are incredibly detailed in their thinking and like to go down to the minute detail of everything. At the other extreme you have people that tend to think at the ‘big picture level’ and prefer to stay away from even the slightest level of detail. It is actually a sliding scale with most people somewhere in the middle. It becomes an issue when you are communicating with someone closer to the extreme.
Everyone is capable of going into detail and of thinking in big picture terms. The way we think is habitual; we may be more used to thinking in detail and it may take some effort to take a more global perspective, but it is possible. Once you have done this several times, it will be possible to switch in and out of each mode. You will probably have a preference but you will not let it get in the way of your business development. If you can only communicate to people that can think at a very detailed level or a very global level then you will restrict the pool of prospects with whom you can work.
Amount of structure
In a similar way to detail, some people like a lot of structure where others find structure very restrictive. Again it is a sliding scale as opposed to one or the other. We all have the capacity for each and it is down to what we feel most comfortable doing and what we habitually do.
Lack of structure is often associated with people who are more creative and free thinkers. It is the very lack of structured thinking that leads to the creativity. If they are communicating with other people who are also used to having unrestricted thinking them both people will probably have a great time. The conversation will go all over the place and probably over run but they will get there in the end.
I have covered some of the more straightforward examples but there are many areas that can make a significant difference in communication by recognising subtle differences in the way people think and process information. By making this an area of skill to work on you can become incredibly influential not just in terms of being understood but in helping to influence how people think about things and moving them to your way of thinking.
By Dominic Walkman