Very simple. Keep it short. Keep it clear. Keep it fresh.
But this week I’ve learned some new things – things that have taken me by surprise.
The more I speak to people, inside and outside of work, the more I feel it’s how you treat people that can determine the success of communication.
The words you use are just a small part of that.
But an outstretched hand, a firm smile and a friendly demeanour are even more important than the words.
I believe if you implement these, as I will do, you’ll become a better communicator – inside and outside of work.
I took a taxi home from The Stand Comedy Club last weekend with my wife after a hard week’s work.
I’d been working since Monday morning, my wife since the previous Monday morning.
We were exhausted – and frustrated that the taxi took 20 minutes to arrive.
The driver was friendly, albeit downbeat about the prospects of work that night.
It was a lovely evening – one that he would clearly have rather spent with his three kids than be driving a taxi.
His kids were all of school age, with the exception of his eldest boy, who was off to Aberdeen University to study Business. The economy had hit him hard, forcing him and his family to move to Glasgow eight years ago from Delhi.
Within ten minutes, I felt like I knew this man well.
At the end of the journey, he told me he’d like his team trained.
Oh yes, did I mention? He runs his own Accountancy business, employing a number of client-facing staff.
It struck me by surprise too – that he would become my next potential client.
But why should we assume otherwise?
I made a rule to myself: treat everybody you meet like they’re your next big customer.
They may well be your next big thing.
One of my favourite movie scenes comes from Dead Poet’s Society, where Robin Williams plays an eccentric teacher, who decides to conduct his lesson whilst standing on his desk.
“Why do I stand upon my desk”?
he asks the class.
“To feel taller?”
comes to the response.
“No…I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way”.
Perspective is an interesting subject – and something we often ignore when we communicate.
From the comfort of our own desks, it’s easy to forget the perspective, aims and ambitions of other people.
We spent a day this week working with a hotel group, helping Hotel Managers to explain things clearly and succinctly. They found it easy to sell their own hotels – and they sounded fascinating – the hot tub on the patio, dolphins swimming nearby and in one case, the resident ghost.
We decided to run some complaints past them. Some found it easy, some found it more difficult.
Here were some of the responses:
“I want to find out what happened with your meal so we can improve our standards”.
“I’ll find out more about the excessive noise so we can make things quieter”.
“I’d like to have a private word with the person you spoke to”.
So what’s wrong with all of that? Well, it all deals with what’s in it for the hotel manager.
As a guest, is my priority to help you find out what happened to make sure it’s better in the future? Here’s what we heard by the end of the day:
“I’m really sorry – I want to make sure you get a peaceful sleep tonight”
“I’m sorry to hear that – we’ll recompense you for your meal and we’d love you to come back tonight on us”.
That’s what’s in it for me.
So remember – keep changing your perspective.
Put yourself in other people’s shoes.
Stand on your desk.
Another vital factor in communicating is to let people finish.
Every couple of weeks I visit an elderly gentleman in Glasgow as part of a befriending programme.
I’m there to make sure he has someone to talk to, which I’m told makes a big difference to his life and his mental health.
Sometimes we’ll talk about the war. Sometime it’s what’s on TV tonight.
Other times it’s simply about his neighbours’ recycling, or lack of it.
Sometimes his thoughts are disorganised – much like mine. It’s difficult to tell what’s a pause and what’s the end of a story.
But I believe the main reason he likes me visiting is that I listen to him – and I let him finish.
I’ve learned about WWII, fixed bayonets, rifles, shotguns, concentration camps, evacuation efforts, the best place to hide in a terrace during the Blitz, how to approach an unexploded mortar bomb, you name it.
If I interrupted him or talked about myself, all of the above would simply be a mystery.
When people speak to you, they want to be heard.
They want to feel like you are listening. And you can only do that by letting them finish.
So go forth – treat everybody as a future customer, put yourself in their shoes and let them finish.
And I promise – you’ll find yourself a better communicator.
Andrew McFarlan is a director of media training and presentation skills training firm Pink Elephant Communications.
You can view his full profile here.
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