Do you speak your prospect’s language?

Communication is something we often take for granted. We constantly expect the other person to understand what we are talking about. Yet we may get frustrated at being misunderstood by some people. If the words, ‘That’s not what I meant!’ get said by you regularly then you may be suffering from the ‘English and French’ syndrome:

Imagine a group of English people on holiday in France. They are lost and looking for directions. They come across a French man who does not speak any English and they do not speak any French. They ask in English anyway and the Frenchman just shrugs his shoulders and says ‘Comment?’ (What?) The English people can tell the Frenchman does not understand so they commence to speak very loudly and slowly as if it is to be expected that the whole world should speak English as a matter of right. Naturally, when you are in France you may come across people who do not speak English. It is not so obvious that in business you may meet people who are from the same country but have no idea about what you are talking.

The need for flexibility in communication

Between two people, whose responsibility is it for communicating effectively?

To me the answer is simple. It is the person who wants to be understood. If your prospect was desperate for your product and services and there were no alternatives then it could be a different matter. There are few monopolies left these days and it is unlikely that any existing ones will last forever.

It does not matter what you think you have communicated, all that matters is what has been understood. We have already covered how your words can be saying one thing and your body language saying something completely different.

But what if you are being incredibly sincere with the best intentions and yet the other person simply does not understand or, worse, thinks you mean something completely different.
Unless you consider how you want your communication to be understood then you leave it to chance. You can have huge empathy and still not get anywhere because your prospects just do not understand you.

If you wanted to sell your products and services in another country, wouldn’t you naturally consider the language issue? But what if you are selling to people who speak the same language and yet cannot understand you? It’s my view that if you want someone to understand you then it is your responsibility to communicate in a way that they understand rather than expect them to make the effort to understand you. After all, if the situation was reversed, it is unlikely you would go out of your way to understand someone who was speaking a different language, especially if the conversation was about conducting business together.

Jargon

As I work with a lot of people involved in information technology you can imagine that jargon can be a problem. On one particular sales visit I was with a person selling web design. He was visiting the managing partner of a firm of architects. It was clear from the beginning that the architect was not very familiar to websites. He used email and he looked at sites on the internet to get information but had never seen the need for a website. Yet the web designer proceeded to use a lot of jargon, some of which I had not even heard of. This web designer was used to speaking to people in IT departments of larger companies who speak the language of IT. Here he was using the same language and the prospect was looking more and more confused. Each time a piece of jargon was used he was wondering what that meant and probably was not listening to what followed.

On the other hand, you may need to understand the jargon of the industry – it could add credibility. If it is expected and you do not know it then you could find yourself at a disadvantage. The key thing is to remain flexible.

Levels of detail

The classic area for communication problems arises when two people have different levels of detail with which they are comfortable. Some people are incredibly detailed in their thinking and like to go down to the minute detail of everything. At the other extreme you have people that tend to think at the ‘big picture level’ and prefer to stay away from even the slightest level of detail. It is actually a sliding scale with most people somewhere in the middle. It becomes an issue when you are communicating with someone closer to the extreme.

Everyone is capable of going into detail and of thinking in big picture terms. The way we think is habitual; we may be more used to thinking in detail and it may take some effort to take a more global perspective, but it is possible. Once you have done this several times, it will be possible to switch in and out of each mode. You will probably have a preference but you will not let it get in the way of your business development. If you can only communicate to people that can think at a very detailed level or a very global level then you will restrict the pool of prospects with whom you can work.

Big Picture ——————————– Detailed

Consider where you see yourself on the scale above. If you are in the middle you may want to develop your flexibility in both directions. If you are at one extreme then you may want to get some practice at working closer to the middle. Remember, you are not looking to change what you currently do, only add a wider range of possibilities. It’s a bit like if you could only sing one note then learning some of the other notes would expand the range of music you would be able to sing.

To develop your ability for detail, take up a hobby or start doing some research on a particular topic that interests you. I know someone who claims to be dyslexic but has no problems reading cookery books. Its amazing how, when you are interested enough in something then you want more and more detail. The clue here is that you are interested in the topic.

If you start to take an interest in your customers and their interests and needs then it is my guess that you will be able to cope with a lot more detail and enjoy it!

Amount of structure

In a similar way to detail, some people like a lot of structure where others find structure very restrictive. Again it is a sliding scale as opposed to one or the other. We all have the capacity for each and it is down to what we feel most comfortable doing and what we habitually do.

Lack of structure is often associated with people who are more creative and free thinkers. It is the very lack of structured thinking that leads to the creativity. If they are communicating with other people who are also used to having unrestricted thinking them both people will probably have a great time. The conversation will go all over the place and probably over run but they will get there in the end.

Most of us have come across people who are creative to the extreme. They have lots of ideas and never put any into practice because they are not so good at planning and taking an organised approach. They work well when teamed up with people who are more organised and take a structured approach but lack the creativity. So for example, an accounting firm engages a business development consultant to develop ideas for new services to offer their clients. The branding consultants engage an accounting firm to help them get their finances in order.

The problem comes when someone who is highly structured attempts to communicate with people that are not used to very much structure. The structured person gets confused when the conversation does not follow a specific order. The unstructured person feels constrained in their thinking when they have to fit into a specific structure.

Highly structured —————————– Free Thinker

Consider where you see yourself on the scale above. If you are in the middle you may want to develop your flexibility in both directions. If you are at one extreme then you may want to get some practice at working closer to the middle. Remember, you are not looking to change what you currently do, only add a wider range of possibilities. It’s a bit like if you could only sing one note then learning some of the other notes would expand the range of music you would be able to sing.

Other potential barriers to communication

I have covered some of the more straightforward examples but there are many areas that can make a significant difference in communication by recognising subtle differences in the way people think and process information. By making this an area of skill to work on you can become incredibly influential not just in terms of being understood but in helping to influence how people think about things and moving them to your way of thinking.

The more you begin to study how people think and how they communicate and begin to practice flexibility in your communication with others, the more power and influence you have in dealing with people. This is something that so-called born salesmen have but it is a skill that can be acquired and taken to a much higher degree than your average salesman

Richard White is managing director of Pro-Excellence, a company providing inspirational business development coaching and mentoring for business owners, reluctant sales people, and non-sales staff. For more information visit www.pro-excellence.com

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