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The business world may have gone digital but that doesn’t mean verbal communication skills are any less important.
From conversing with colleagues, to negotiating with suppliers, building relationships with customers - and landing them in the first place - the need for highly effective communication skills is as vital as ever.
And of course, the strongest relationships will always be formed, and the most successful sales conversations carried out, face-to-face.
So, what’s the secret of super effective verbal communication? And what can you do to enhance your skills?
The traits of a good communicator
There are a number of key behaviors and qualities that strong communicators exhibit. They are likely to be someone who:
- Quickly grasps what the key talking point is and what the different viewpoints may be
- Gets their viewpoint across succinctly
- Makes you feel they understand you
- Actively listens
- Answers questions properly and to the point
- Doesn’t try to turn everything around
- Keeps the conversation interesting
- Acknowledges differences but refrains from causing conflict
- Knows how to confront, without upsetting other people
Whether you agree with his politics or not, an example of one of the best communicators of our time is former US President Barack Obama. He expertly managed all of the above and showed with every interview what a master of communication he is.
Understanding what happens during a conversation
When thinking of your own conversations, the first key step is to recognize that everyone sees things through their own filter. You may have a very different memory of a conversation to the person you’re talking to.
When a discussion is taking place, there are actually three different conversations going on:
- the one running in your head
- the one running in the other person’s head
- the one that actually happened
How much ‘skin is in the game’?
The second point is to recognize how important the conversation is to you personally. There will be a big difference between meeting someone at a party and engaging in small-talk, to having a job interview, or making a sales call.
The reason you need to be aware of how invested in the conversation you are, is so you are better able to keep your own emotions in check. That applies for both online and verbal conversation.
Think how you’re communicating
A lot of what we communicate doesn’t come through our words alone. It comes through body language, expression and intonation – which is something that is far trickier to achieve online.
One top tip for online conversations is to make use of emojis. Love them or hate them, those little faces and symbols play an important role and exist for a reason. Make the most of them, especially when you are trying to make a joke or be sarcastic, as it’s often hard to pick that up from written copy.
Learn to actively listen
There’s a well-known saying that ‘the greatest gift you can give anyone is attention’ and when it comes to your conversations, your success could hinge on how well you listen. Often you may be distracted and instead of being in the moment you’re thinking what you’re going to say next.
Active listening is about truly listening to what the other person has to say. It’s not easy and takes practice. At times, you may feel like you never get a word in. But the truth is, if the other person needs more attention then give it to them. They will love you for it. Of course, if the conversation starts going off course you’ll need to cut in with a question to bring it back on track.
When did you last look someone square in the eyes? It’s shocking how little we do it and yet the result can be so positive! Along with active listening, it’s a way of showing respect and that someone has your full attention.
In a political debate, you will often see participants making notes while the other one speaks. They won’t interrupt but instead will note down any points they need to address when it’s their turn again.
In a sales conversation, you should do the same. When your prospect is talking, don’t interrupt them. Instead, note down anything you need to reference. In that situation, as long as they are talking shop, it’s all good. If they are lost in small talk or go off at a tangent then don’t be rude, but try to gently steer the conversation back.
Being able to build rapport quickly is a key skill of expert communicators and here’s how you go about it:
- Go into their world
By this we mean make the conversation all about them. Find something that interests them and ask about it. If you are in their space, a quick look around might give you clues. If you’re meeting somewhere else, then see if there’s anything about them - their clothing, briefcase or even a cell phone picture - that may give you a clue. Failing that, ask questions about their last vacation or a topical news issue. The idea is to find something they are passionate about and to show genuine interest in what they are saying.
- Find a shared reality
The quickest way to build rapport is to have a shared reality with someone. This simply means finding something you have in common and that connects you. Whether that is something professional, private or a mutual experience, it will link you on another level. Conversations are easy if you have something in common.
- Verify what was said
As we’ve mentioned, there are always three conversations going on and misunderstandings can easily happen. That’s why it’s so important to verify what has been said and the meaning of it. It is the simplest way to avoid a communication breakdown.
When the other person makes an important statement, mirror it back to them by saying something like “Did I understand you correctly, …”.
Sometimes we know that the other person may have said something, but actually mean something entirely different. If you feel this is what is going on, it’s crucial you make things clear, such as by responding with “So what you’re saying is….”. Their response will give you even more clarity.
Don’t forget about the clarity of your own statements either. It can be hard to express yourself clearly and even more difficult to get to the point quickly and succinctly. These problems will be magnified with online communication, such as email. Always make sure that when you are communicating something to the other person, it is received the way you intended it to be.
It’s possible that you didn’t communicate clearly enough and/or they didn’t listen well enough. Before you know it, you could both be talking about different things!
The power of asking the right questions
Sometimes conversations are easy and sometimes they’re not. The best way to keep a conversation flowing is to skilfully ask questions.
In most cases, you should aim to use open ended questions, but closed questions have a role to play too, particularly when it comes to verifying what you’ve heard.
These are questions that have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type answer. In a sales conversation, you want to use these when you’re closing a deal. A question like “Do you want us to start on Monday or Tuesday” will give you either a clear answer that they are ready to buy, or show you not right now.
Closed questions are not great for keeping a conversation going but they can be used to change the subject and then dig deeper with an open ended question.
Open ended questions
Open ended questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. They often start with a ‘what’, ‘how’ or ‘why’, so keep those in mind whenever you get stuck.
If you don’t know how to continue a conversation take what the other person just said and delve deeper with a ‘what’ or ‘why’ or ‘how’ question.
This is also the perfect conversation starter for shy or introverted people at a party.
Top tips for successful verbal communication
- Be in the moment – give the other person your full attention
- Understand where the other is coming from - we view the world from our own point of view and often forget that other people may have other views
- Ditch the ego - it can sometimes get in the way. It can prevent you from thinking about the other person. In a sales conversation that would mean talking about you and your product, with no regard for what the other person may be thinking
- Aim to build rapport quickly - it is an essential skill for any good sales rep
There you have it. Working on improving your communication skills is always going to be time well spent, as it could benefit you in so many ways - not just in your work conversations, but in all areas of your life.
If you really want to supercharge your communication skills and take them up a level, then look out for a local theater group to join. This will give you super powers when it comes to saying the right thing at the right time and with confidence!