Updated: Sep 2, 2020
There is an art to communicating.
It’s never as simple as one person speaks and another follows. It requires deeply listening to what each person says and ensuring they feel heard and understood and have a path forward.
As a long-time owner of a debt collection agency, I’ve been involved in some of the most difficult conversations on the planet. I’ve also seen firsthand how the right words can create happier people and higher revenue.
I want to share with you five quick communication tips that you can apply to any business – or personal – interaction. These strategies will result in less anger, less stress, and more connection between everyone involved.
Check them out, and let me know what you think in the comments.
Quick Tip #1: Eliminate negative language and phrases that cause conflict and move calls backward
Maya Angelou said it best:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When you’re communicating, one of the most important things to be aware of is the feeling your words evoke.
It’s not a stretch to say we’ve all been in a conversation that spiraled out of control quickly, even when we thought we were being polite and not doing anything to upset the person we were speaking with.
When we’re in the middle of a heated conversation like that, it can be hard to determine why the conversation went awry and how to get it back on track.
Fortunately, understanding what creates conflict and what creates connection can help you avoid conflicts before they happen or mend relationships before they're broken beyond repair.
Note: Doing any of the following is going to create conflict and get you stuck in the negative part of the conversation:
Using negative language – Words like no, not, can't, won't, however, and unfortunately make people feel anxious and uneasy and lead to call flow traps.
Being demanding or threatening – Examples include not providing people with any alternative solutions, focusing on a consequence, or highlighting the problem rather than a solution.
Lecturing or reciting policy – Using phrases like "I'm sorry. Our policy is...or...You should have done this...
Guilt-tripping or playing on people’s fears – Making people feel like their problems or concerns are their fault.
On the other hand, doing the following is going to help you create deeper and stronger connections:
Using positive language that allows people to relax and communicates that you have their best interests in mind
Making people feel heard and understood
Stating what you need or can do (i.e. talking in terms of solutions)
Communicating next steps
Showing flexibility and offering options
One big thing you need to understand is that everything you say, every word you speak, is going to affect the outcome of your conversation with another person.
Conflict always moves a conversation backward, while connection always moves it forward.
As business professionals, the effect your words have on others is your most valuable currency.
That’s because people make decisions based on how they feel.
Think about it. If you get an untrustworthy vibe from a salesperson, you will hesitate to pay or invest because it won’t feel safe to you or it will feel risky.
And you often only have one chance to get it right. If you can’t win your customer’s trust or favor, they’re not necessarily going to give you a second chance. They’re going to take their business elsewhere.
Quick Tip #2: Open up a conversation with feeling questions
Oftentimes, people can be reluctant to voice their true feelings and concerns.
A great way to open up a conversation, build connection, and gather information from someone is to ask feeling questions.
Important: The quality of your question will determine the quality of your results.
To determine the best feeling question to ask in your line of business, follow this simple three-step process:
Step 1: Identify who you are needing to talk to (i.e. who you have to have that critical communication with).
For instance, is it a vendor, employee, partner, friend, parent, or child?
Step 2: Identify the “elephant in the room.” What is the conversation you are struggling over with this person?
Example: One scenario I often get asked about from business owners and their team members is what to do when someone requests a refund that is outside of their company’s policies.
Step 3: Formulate your feeling question and ask it
Using the scenario from above, if a customer asks for a refund – say for an online course – that’s not in line with your company’s policies, a feeling question you could ask him is...
How are you feeling about the program?
How are you feeling about your progress with the program?
Quick Tip #3: Express empathy and compassion
Building off Tip #2, deeply listen to the person’s response to your feeling question.
Listen without interruption, judgement, or the “but,” “however” or “unfortunately.”
Once, the person has responded to your feeling question…
Step 1: First, identify if his response is certain or uncertain.
In the example about the course refund, an “uncertain” response from the customer might contain a complaint, or convey confusion, anxiety or lack of confidence about their outcome with the program.
While a response of certainty from the customer might convey confidence that things are going well and there is another reason they are requesting a refund.
Step 2: Next, use a validation statement to make sure the person you are speaking with feels heard and understood.
For instance, if the customer asking for a refund expressed uncertainty about their progress with the program, you might tell them, I can understand your concerns. Many other people have felt the same way, so you’re not alone.
Validation builds empathy, and empathy builds trust.
Trust is critical in any relationship. It determines whether people want to engage with you further.
Quick Tip #4: Use positive language
Next, give the people you’re speaking to a sigh of relief by using positive language.
Have you ever had a customer service rep, colleague, or someone else pull you out of panic mode? What words did they use?
My guess is, it was something like, ”I want you to know that I am going to help you with this.”
Positive phrases like, “I’ve got great news for you” or “I can definitely look into this” tap into your listeners’ parasympathetic nervous systems and allow them to relax.
It also allows them to be present for your solution, which leads me to Quick Tip #5.
Quick Tip #5: Talk in terms of solutions
The #1 mistake I hear people make is telling people what they can’t do instead of what they can do.
It’s like a reflex. A customer asks for help or advice and if it’s outside of the employee’s expertise, he immediately shoots back with...
“I’m sorry, our policy is…”,
“I’m not sure”
While that might feel freeing to the employee, it leaves the customer feeling frustrated and stuck.
If you’ve ever been the customer in this scenario, you know what I mean.
Even if the solution is not the exact one your customer or even your friend or family member is looking for, there’s always something you can do, and demonstrating your willingness to find an alternative solution can help you create a positive connection with that person.
Saying what you can do builds respect and loyalty; it makes the other person feel important and valued.
So much stress comes from poor communication.
Oftentimes, I’ll hear customers and business professionals enter into a power struggle, leaving both feeling trapped in fight-or-flight mode and speaking in a way that makes matters worse. That kind of interaction escalates over time, and each person feels the effects of that stress.
The next time you’re in an important conversation – especially one that has you feeling defensive – slow down and apply these five strategies. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If the person hasn’t already told you, ask him how he is feeling.
Let me know what differences you see.
To learn more about creating happier customers and teams – one word at a time – book a call with me here.