Often, it’s not what you say, but how much you care: an often-forgotten element to good communication. We’re all so worried about getting our point across or winning the argument that we set aside the compassion that goes into a “great” conversation. What I mean by compassion is caring enough to really listen to what the other person(s) is saying.
There is nothing I am going to tell you in this article that you haven’t already heard. The problem is we don’t put into practice the basic elements that allow us to be “great” communicators. As a matter of fact, we’ve forgotten how to communicate because of all the technology at our fingertips. Texting, email, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter — need I say more? Technology has taken the spoken word and manifested it into “a box of text” that can come across poorly or offensively to say the least.
The art of speaking, understanding, asking and developing dialogue has been eliminated in this fast-paced, quick-reply, “do it now” universe we now live in. Sure, we can communicate around the world in seconds, and conduct business at extraordinary speed; however we have lost the “human” elements of conversation.
Each generation has been exposed to a favorite way of communication. In 2017, even an 80-year-old may prefer to communicate by email. What happened to picking up the phone or handwriting a letter? The human conversation, the touch of another person, seeing the joy or disappointment on someone’s face, all lost behind technology. Of course, there is always emoji. Lol!
So where do we start. Practicing the art of “great” communication takes time, courage and a willingness to negotiate, persuade and influence. Remember that dreaded speech you had to give in middle school? Your body got all twisted and your stomach ached. Your voice may have even changed an octave. Well, all that preparation, practice and determination (hard work) is what made the difference between a “C” or an “A” grade.
What are the fundamentals of “great” communication? Preparing, listening, understanding, speaking, asking and developing.
Preparing means allowing yourself to know something about your client, staff or networking community. Do your homework, find out as much as you can about the client, clients’ company or interest. This is one of the moments when the Internet is most useful in gathering information. Knowing when the client started in business, what it manufactures/sells/provides, its number of employees, etc., will help you stand out in the competitive world of lawyers. This same research is valid when hiring someone. Prepare yourself with addition information regarding the applicant’s interests and skills. Networking takes time, most of which you may not have to spare. Research the different organizations, clubs and chapters that are of interest to you and will give you the most networking opportunities. Find a not-for-profit organization that you are passionate about, and join. Volunteer with your firm, take an active role, perhaps sit on the board of directors. Being prepared will open many doors and build upon your communication skills.
Two ears and one mouth just tells us that we should be listening twice as much as we speak. To listen, you must stop talking. If you find your thoughts slipping away when others are speaking, then always carry a pad and pen, jot down key words so you won’t forget your thoughts. Most people would rather you ask, “Do you mind if I take notes during the meeting?” rather than interrupting the person while engaged in conversation. Eye contact, nodding your head in agreement or sharing your feelings with facial expressions are a part of good listening and are a form of good communication.
One technique I use when training new associates is this: I always ask them to repeat back what we just discussed, and ask any questions they may have. Seriously, many of them would repeat the wrong information or say, “Sorry can you repeat it again?” You may think they were not listening. However, it could have been several issues: 1) Distraction or preoccupation; 2) They thought they already knew what to do and so did not pay attention; or 3) They didn’t understanding the lingo or have the experience to comprehend the business references. We often take for granted that the words that come out of our mouths are understood by all. In fact, we all process information differently. Some need to be shown, some need to be told and others need to do the work to understand. Be conscientious. Think of a time when you asked an associate to perform a specific research project and it came back all wrong. The associate did not understand the goal, only the urgency or the matter. This error becomes costly, and the client should not be penalized because of it. Clarity is a way of making ourselves understood. Ask the person you are speaking with to repeat what they think they heard or understood. It will save, time money and aggravation like in the example given above.
A true art. Most of us think we know how to articulate what is on our mind. Using the three skills above will certainly make us better speakers. We place so much importance on getting our point across that we don’t take into consideration the feelings, kindness and caring that goes into being a “great” communicator. Thinking before you speak is the first step. Is the person receiving this information ready to accept it, embrace it or even argue with you? Being ready to speak is not enough. Understanding your audience will allow your communication to be most effective.
You might be wondering what I mean by this. I call it The ASK. Closing the deal. Getting paid or firing a client or employee. Having the right words, the right information and having the courage to see the action through. You must be in a good frame of mind, and know what you are doing is right and with purpose. Using all the steps above will help you with this hardest part of communication.
What do I mean? Developing all the skills above including persuading, influencing and negotiating (PIN). To PIN is to be a victorious communicator.” Knowing when to use each of these forms of communication is the secret.
Are you a “great” communicator?
- When I am at work, do I engage in conversation 50% or more of the time?
- When I am out to lunch or dinner, do I put away my phone?
- When I am with a client, do I ignore all distractions?
- When I am engaged in conversation, does the person have my undivided attention?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, start making time to communicate more effectively with others. Your clients will appreciate it even if they are at fault for the same behaviors that prevent us from being “great” communicators.
***** Bianca Moreiras is the principal of Bianca Moreiras & Associates. She has been a mentor, motivator and presenter primarily in the legal profession for over 34 years. Visit www.biancamoreiras.com for more information.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.