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Me & You & a Dog Named Boo

Susan L. Reid

Small Business Communication 101

Picture of Lobo coverWhat a great title for an article on communication, don’t you think? LoBo recorded this song in the 70s about hanging out and traveling around the country in a car, just going wherever and however the spirit moved.

That pretty much sums up the free-flowing way most of us communicate. We stay with topics for as long as they interest us, and we move on when they don’t. That may be OK for everyday communication. When it comes to business communication, though, it’s a good idea to bring a map along with ole Boo so you don’t get lost.

Communicating effectively can be one of your greatest assets when you’re running a small business. Ineffective communication, conversely, can be your greatest liability. If you and ole Boo were stuck together on a long car trip and had to make it work, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to communicate more effectively with him? Once you understood just what he was saying and how he was saying it, talking with one another would become free and easy, with no need to guess or interpret what was being said.

The first step to becoming a more effective communicator is to learn about the three main styles of communication.

3 Main Styles Of Communication

There are three main “voices” or styles of communication: one-under, one-up, and equal. For business communication in the United States, the optimal voice to use is equal. In other parts of the world, one-under or one-up may be more appropriate.

One-under communication is a style that is typified by minimizing what you are saying, or putting yourself or your words “one-under” in importance to another person’s. The intent here is to focus on the other person in order to gain greater clarity about what he or she is saying. “Seek first to understand than to be heard” is an axiom that would apply here. This style of communication is great for diffusing stressful situations when communication is going awry and people are frustrated because they are not feeling heard.

One-up communication is an aggressive style that is often accompanied with raised voices and excessive reinforcements, absolutes, and “you” statements. This type of communication is often considered a boundary-busting communication style. This is because the person speaking thinks that what he or she is saying is more important than what anyone else is saying. This style of delivery will automatically shut down the avenues of communication or incite angry retorts. Not surprisingly, it should be used sparingly, if at all.

Equal communication is a style that is epitomized by direct and respectful communication and the use of “I” statements and reflective listening skills. Its purpose is to open up the avenues of communication and encourage dialogue. At its core is the understanding that each person matters and what he or she has to say is valuable. “Two heads are better than one” is the adage at the heart of this communication style. Here, all points of view are welcomed, considered, and appreciated.

The Dialogue

The next step to becoming a more effective communicator is to learn to practice “the dialogue.” Good communication consists of three distinct parts: what the speaker says, what the listener hears, and the gray area in-between. Sometimes, what is perfectly clear to the speaker is heard another way by the listener. That is why it is so important to practice reflecting or repeating back to the speaker what was said. Here’s how the dialogue works:

The first part is for the speaker to articulate directly and clearly what he or she wants to say.

The second part is for the listener to reflect back to the speaker what he or she heard. Useful phrases that help the listener put what the speaker said into his or her own words include: “What I just heard is. . . .” and "Let me see if I understand what you're saying. . . .”

The third—and probably most important—part is for the listener to check with the speaker by asking, “Is that correct?” That one question will eliminate any misunderstandings or assumptions on the part of the listener. It will also give the speaker the chance to revise and clarify what he or she said.

Of course, it isn’t necessary to have this kind of dialogue after every sentence or with every person. It is good to keep this dialogue in mind, though, when you are confused about or need to confirm what is being said, find yourself not being heard, or know that something is “off”, even if you’re not sure what. In these cases, start the dialogue to check things out, gain clarity, and get back on track.

7 Tips For The Talk

Picture of couple communicatingFinally, in addition to the dialogue, there are seven other things to consider when it’s me and you and a dog named Boo in a conversation together. Practicing even one of these seven tips will make a difference in your business communication effectiveness. Consistently applying three or four of them will so improve your communication with your partners, clients, and customers that you will see and feel the difference immediately. Practicing all seven of these “tips for the talk” will make you a delight to be around. People will feel as if they have your undivided attention and that you really listen to them. That will make all the difference in the world to the success of your small business.

Tip #1: Address issues as they come up. Don’t piggy-back unresolved issues from the past onto the present topic of discussion. This will confuse the issue and emotionally charge the situation. Stay on point.

Tip #2: Use “I” statements, and speak only from your perspective. Don’t overload your speech with absolutes such as: “You never . . . “or “You always . . . . ” This kind of blanket statement is rarely true and is divisive. Stick with “I.”

Tip #3: Focus on the behaviors you are observing, not the opinions of others. Resist the urge to press your point by listing the scores of people who agree with you and your point of view. Stand and speak only for yourself.

Tip #4: When someone else is speaking, listen. If you're interrupting or forming your response as the other person is talking, you're not listening. Give the speaker your full attention.

Tip #5: Check in from time to time to make sure everyone is on the same page. Don’t assume that the other person is in agreement with you or what you are saying. Check it out.

Tip #6: Follow the bouncing ball. Don’t change the subject without a nod in the direction of the previous topic of discussion. Mind your segue.

Tip #7: Be open to the possibility of another perspective. There is no absolute truth. Truth is relative.

Practicing being an effective speaker and attentive listener will go a long way toward keeping the avenues of communication open and relationships productive. Taking time to communicate effectively and in an equal voice will help ensure a smooth exchange of information with partners, clients, and customers—not to mention ole Boo.

Just in case you want to listen to the groovy tune Me and You and the Dog Named Boo,here’s the link. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFbbNR9TV_k

© 2006 Susan L. Reid

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Copyright ©2006 by Susan L. Reid, DMA

Susan L Reid, DMA, Small Business Start Up Coach, Consultant & Accidental Pren-her™ is the author of Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman's Journey to Business Success. Known for taking the fear out of starting up businesses, Susan provides value, inspiration and direction to entrepreneurial women starting up and launching small businesses. 

To get your copy of Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman's Journey to Business Success, go to WME Books or visit www.Alkamae.com. For ideas and start up tips, sign-up for our free e-Zine for entrepreneurial women called LAUNCH YOU! We are blogging at: http://susanreid.typepad.com

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