Meeting planning is all in the details. Yet, being awesome at taking care of those details doesn’t guarantee success. Without equally excellent communication skills to maintain positive interactions with diverse stakeholders, creating impactful events can be frustrating, difficult and sometimes nearly impossible. After all, meetings always involve people!
Here are 5 vital, non-intuitive communication skills that will enable the best business conversations (and better ones at home, too!):
1. You aren’t the star. They are.
Let’s say you have the best idea since the invention of the latte. You know your strategy will drive attendance, accelerate revenue and generate buzz. But your stakeholder doesn’t reply to your emails or dismisses your concept during discussions.
Why? It’s likely you’ve made the most common, fixable “influence” skill of all time; you’re talking about your idea and strategy. With respect, no one cares. It isn’t about you or what you think at all (unless you’re the CEO, but that is a different article). It’s about helping your stakeholders their result, their vision and the ROI they can expect. It’s about exciting them, selling to them and helping them feel safe and smart by buying into the idea.
Here is an example from an email. Don’t peek at the revision. Just read this email and decide if it’s more about the writer or the recipient:
Hi Name, I’ve been researching why participants attend events and discovered XYZ. I’m really excited about the possibilities for our upcoming annual meeting and would like to talk about how I can incorporate this into our planning and positioning for ABC 2017. Your thoughts?
Who is this email more about, the writer or the reader? If you said it was about the reader, please determine which words were likely to excite the recipient? Which words were likely to put them at ease? With any luck, you’re struggling to find words that are focused on the recipient, because that message is all about the writer.
How about this revision?
Hi Name, Your stated goals for ABC 2017 are:
- increased attendance,
- accelerated revenue and
- positive buzz that continues post-conference
You can count on that happening by incorporating X into our planning and positioning. With your approval, I’ll add this to the agenda for further discussion to ensure ABC’s initiatives are achieved.
Whether an email or verbal conversation, use words that revolve around your buyer/stakeholder, and their desired results.
2. Listen for points of agreement.
When we disagree with what another person says, we hear just 25% of what they say. Instead of listening, we’re busy forming our rebuttal, ready to prove them wrong or demonstrate how right our thinking is. Of course, this isn’t exactly a brilliant tactic to advance a conversation to a productive result.
As non-intuitive as it may seem, listening for the point(s) you can authentically agree with, then beginning your response indicating your agreement, is disarming. More important, it helps the other person hear more of your message because when we agree with another, we hear up to two times more!
Imagine a participant at your event was barred from entering a very popular session. She seeks you out so she can yell: “I paid money to be here and the one session I wanted to attend is oversold and I wasn’t allowed in, and I want you to get me into that session right now!”
Instead of beginning with an apology or an explanation of why you can’t do that (which she won’t hear anyway), consider the points she made with which you can ethically, authentically and honestly agree. She is right that:
- the session is full and has reached its maximum attendance
- she paid to attend the conference
- she wasn’t allowed in
Start your response with a point of agreement before transitioning to a possible solution:
”You’re right that is a very popular session and the fire marshal has limited the number of participants. Here are 3 things we can do to ensure you get the content…"
This may not look like an exciting strategy as you read it, but when you apply it, you’ll be amazed at the results you get! Oh and there is a world of difference between
“You’re right” and “I agree.” (See point #1!)
3. Deal or no deal.
Have you ever had a conversation and felt really good about it, but nothing happened or changed?
The challenge is, you thought you and the other person had come to agreement on next steps yet, did you gain agreement? Asking for confirmation is a crucial next step. After your next challenging conversation, when you think you and the other person see eye-to-eye, go one step further and solidify your deal. Here are some phrases to consider:
- So, can I count on you?
- Does this plan work for you?
- To recap then, you’ll X and I’ll Y. Is that correct?
- Do you need anything else from me to commit getting it done as discussed?
- Then you agree and will move forward with this. Is that what I’m hearing?
4. Elevate curiosity
Questions often can feel like interrogations, not because you intend your question to create defensiveness, but because the other person perceives the intent of your question differently. Their perception, by the way, may or may not have anything to do with you or the current situation.
A simple but meaningful way to neutralize questions is to begin with curiosity.
When my son was a teenager and I was a single parent, he and I, well, let’s just say, we weren’t exactly avocado and toast. So if he didn’t clean his room as I had asked, wait make that told him to (notice no deal made!),my natural behavior would be to ask why, “Michael, why didn’t you clean your room?” From his perspective, my question was an interrogation, reprimand or accusation. Defensiveness or annoyance were his natural reactions. I’d get much better result if I came to him with genuine curiosity - respectful of his feelings - and asked, “Michael, I’m wondering if there’s a reason your room isn’t clean?” By showing curiosity, the other person saves face, feels respected and has an easier time answering your question. The result is a more productive conversation*.
Albert Einstein said, “I am neither especially clever or especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” By being curious, you demonstrate a desire to learn, often disarming the other person and (almost) always ensuring more professional dialogue.
*If my son had said, “because I didn’t want to” and I still wanted him to clean his room, I’d need to step back and listen for points of agreement. What was he right about? “You’re right, it’s a hassle to clean your room and…” or I’d go to gratitude for his response, “Thanks for being honest with me and...”
5. Stay positive
You probably remember learning about the fight or flight mechanism in Psych 101. Two little adrenal glands sit atop our kidneys and when we’re frustrated, scared or upset in any way, these glands spew adrenaline and other chemicals, preparing our legs and arms to fight or flee. Great stuff for cave people but not so effective today when we need our wits about us, not tunnel vision and a decreased blood supply to our brain!
Why the Wiki on fight or flight? Because negative messaging deflates results. Even using the word “no” in response to another’s idea or question, causes a a fight or flight reaction (maybe just a little, but enough to cause needless tension, friction and stress). To boost results, go out of your way to say what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. Eliminate the word “no” and focus on points of agreement, solution or whatever is possible. By simply not saying “no,” you can count on more productive, engaging and successful interactions.
But wait, there is more…
Reframe all of your messages to focus on what is possible rather than what isn’t. Even when you must talk about what you can’t do, provide your alternate solution first. Regardless of how off the mark it might seem (they want the event in May; you can offer September) you have the opportunity to open them to possibilities by creating a friendlier, more emotionally appealing and more acceptable message.
Whether communicating with meeting participants or other stakeholders, your manner of communication is key. The way you interact – whether through email or verbally - helps them communicate at their best, too. Apply these strategies and tactics to extend your hand and elevate the conversation - and your results.
Author, Power Sales Writing and How to Say it To Sell It!