Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Avoiding the Trap of the Rearview Mirror

Looking back to the past while driving a business into tomorrow is like cruising down the highway using only a rearview mirror.

Most business executives can easily generate a myriad of financial and operational reports to be debated and deliberated in a series of endless management meetings. As the economy tanks, business leaders use these reports to trim overhead, shutter stores, and lay off staff in an effort to stay in business. Additionally, they study the bottom line and plan changes designed to grow profits and increase revenue down the road. Unfortunately for most of these professionals, this data, though useful, does not supply some key information critical to the future success of the company.

Management professionals may not understand commerce is generated when people exchange commitments with one another over the course of business conversations. Since commerce is generated during these business conversations, any and all financial reports are representative of the effectiveness of the communication skills of the individuals within the company. The problem facing most organizations is, they rely on the financial reports without accurately assessing the conversational competence of the members of their staff. For example, if a company engages in 1,000 sales conversations each month with an overall closing percentage of 20 percent, the company has successfully completed 200 sales. The financials are generated by the literal sales numbers, but this doesn't assess the reasons why the remaining 800 calls didn't produce any sales. Furthermore, the financials do not assess the competence of the salespersons that were successful. The data, as such, is incomplete.

Additionally, although many companies record customer service and sales conversations, they lack the distinctions needed to make grounded assessments about the conversations that generate the numbers. This lack of data about the language that creates the very essence of the company inhibits even the most well-meaning of business managers from planning the future in the most effective way. By planning only through the study of past data without assessing communications competence in the future, business leaders are in effect driving their company forward while looking into the rear view mirror—a dangerous way to drive both a vehicle and a business.

Management needs to be able to look into their company person by person, as well as branch by branch, to accurately assess the competence of their staff. The simplest assessment should be based on coordinating action successfully. For instance, sales and customer service staff need to be able to coordinate action with customers and prospects, while managers and operational staff need to be able to coordinate action internally.

Assessing competence in the domain of communication necessitates we have core distinctions upon which we base our assessments, and can fix problem areas we encounter. For instance, measuring a person's ability and understanding about how to "build trust and credibility" and how to design conversations which "produce the desired action" is a starting point.

This naturally leads to questions about designing with language. In addition to moving our bodies, all we have to generate revenues in our business is "language." So a good question to ask is, "What is the language that produces trust?" Another one would be, "How do you design conversations that produce productive action between two or more people?"

Additionally, core distinctions such as "What constitutes a great customer service call?" and "What constitutes a great effort with a new prospect during a sales call?" are central to being able to project the likelihood of future success. If leaders, managers, coaches, and trainers can't articulate the standards and demonstrate how they need to be applied in the future, odds are good the future won’t be what you want.

Typically, business leaders articulate a clear vision about what the future of the company looks like. They lay out new products, policies, and procedures for handling financial transactions. Where the rubber meets the road, however, is in the sales, customer service, and operational conversations. In these areas, the ability to assess competence generally does not exist.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Information Overload

Several months ago, I received a telephone call from my insurance provider. They wanted me to enroll in the healthy pregnancy plan, a program that offered health tips and advice to pregnant women. It was explained to me that I would be mailed a package of information about my pregnancy, that I would get a phone call at the end of each week to find how my pregnancy was progressing, and that I would have access to a web site and a 24-hour hotline that was manned by nurses who were there chiefly to assist me with my medical questions. I signed myself up and happily hoped I would not need the tools, but was glad to have them at my disposal.

Insurance companies are never the picture of excellent customer service, and the nursing hotline left a great deal to be desired. The first and only time I called the hotline, I had been having a sharp, stabbing pain in my abdomen. I checked the web site and read all the information I could find before dialing the number. The nurse who answered the phone was friendly enough, but that was where her telephone skills ceased. Once I told her my problem, she was silent for several minutes except to answer in the affirmative when I queried if she were still on the line. When she did begin speaking, she spoke in a monotone, repeating verbatim the words on the web page that was still in front of me. When I asked a more specific question, she answered, "This is all it says." I questioned what "it" was, and her answer was indeed the same web site to which I already had access. A few moments later, I politely thanked her, hung up, and continued searching the web before calling my own physician.

The problem with the setup is not just the fact that the information given was vague language packaged as highly personalized advice, it was also the lack of training on part of the nurse on call. Indeed I had access to the same information she did, but she also had the knowledge and the training to explain to me what I could not have known without her expertise. Whereas I'm sure she was a fine medical provider, she simply lacked the skill to communicate with me effectively, In fact, she left me more frustrated that I was before I called. Do I blame the nurse? Absolutely not. I instead blame those in charge of the program for not seeing the necessity in communication skills. They looked at their employees as nothing more than human computer terminals, relaying information while avoiding any real human interaction. Entire industries function in this way, not realizing that they would profit greatly from a true commitment to interact with others.

Molloy Business Development Group offers training that enhances communication with customers, prospects, and colleagues, not to mention family and friends. Call Molloy Business Development Group at (877) 212-6001 to learn about the "Language of Commitment" and how it can aid you in creating lasting relationships through the use of language. You can also visit the Molloy web site at

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Controversially Yours

It seems that every few months a controversial issue finds its way to the mainstay of news headlines, office chatter, and the minds of anyone and everyone who is 'in the know.' Whether it is gun control, health care reform, or recent changes to the lawbooks in Arizona, everyone has an opinion and nearly everyone wants their opinions heard.

While it can be interesting, entertaining, and even educational to discuss these matters, it is wise to not approach controversial topics at the office. Everyone knows this, but not everyone can implement their knowledge, particularly when an issue is vitally important or personal to them. Still, heated issues should be left alone at all costs, but how does one respond to discussion of hot button issues in an office setting? Observe the following exchange between a CSR and his superior.

Johnny: Good morning, Mr. So-and-so!
Mr. So-and-so: Good morning, Johnny! Did you see the headlines today? What do you think about the whole immigration issue?

How should Johnny respond? However Johnny feels about immigration is secondary to performing an excellent job and representing his company well. One cannot do so if personal issues and politics interfere with daily life. There are a number of ways Johnny could choose to handle the conversation without embroiling himself in a debate that could lead to harsh words and a tense atmosphere. Read on:

Johnny: I rarely look at news stories these days, Mr. So-and-so. I'm too busy concentrating on my career.

Change of Subject
Johnny: I didn't see anything about immigration, but I did see an interesting piece on Lindsay Lohan. Did you know she's a blonde now?

Johnny: I'd rather not discuss political issues in the office, boss. It might make some people feel uncomfortable.

The method you choose should be based on the situation and the individual at hand. For instance, some may feel put off by the 'frank' response, believing that they are being insulted in some way. On the other hand, some may not be swayed by the change of subject and would appreciate a more forthcoming attitude. It is up to you to decide which style to employ, whether you're communicating with your boss, your colleague, or a prospective customer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Frustration: A Cautionary Tale

I am frustrated. I am short on time, short on sleep, and short on patience. As a working mom to a four year old and a two month old, who gets not a moment to rest, I find my nerves wearing thin at the slightest provocation. The last few weeks have been trying at best. I am getting three hours of sleep on a good night and yet the work never ends. I am frustrated, and my frustration comes out not just through my written words, not just through my body language, but also through the tone of voice and choice of verbiage I use when talking with my business partners, my family, and my friends.

I noticed the frustration in my voice a few days ago. I traveled with my family to Chicago, driving with the kids in the backseat, screaming and crying, and my husband and I had a heart to heart about what we could do to help us both overcome the frustration. I said that I wanted to start running again, but I simply don't have the time. He said that he would like to read more and had hoped that when he chose to be a college professor he would have summers to study and grow, but now that he is writing book number four, he hasn't the time either. We were at a crossroads and felt that we were doomed to feel this frustration forever.

After much though, it occurred to us that it is not the cause of the frustration that needs to be altered, but our reactions to it. I had taken snapping at my family and letting my temper spill over into my work life, which was not helping anyone; least of all me. Why then, would I continue on the same path? Why keep behaving in the same manner if nothing positive was coming from it? That's when I decided to take a deep breath and not internalize the frustration, but to communicate it.

This is where language is vital. Whether I am speaking to my eight-week old daughter or to a prospective business partner, the words I choose have meaning and depth. By using the first words that come to my mind, I may be performing a grave disservice to myself and to everyone else. Instead of rolling my eyes at my daughter and saying, "I don't know what's wrong! Stop screaming!" I instead say, "This is frustrating for me, because I don't know what's wrong, but I am here for you and we will work through this together." Believe it or not, this works for me. I literally feel the frustration slipping away when I use calm, meaningful words to communicate. And when I really assess how I feel, and share the root of my frustration, the words are carried by the air and the problem seems to have less weight. Believe it or not, this can translate into any type of communication. A client or business colleague who is frustrating because they are asking too much, they don't understand you, or if you are simply having a bad day and are projecting on them, can be given a great gift simply by hearing what you are truly thinking and feeling - so long as your words are chosen carefully and precisely. Frustration does not have to be a way of life.