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    Rare is it for a day to go by without our having to communicate. We even have a special term for people who choose not to participate: hermits. Dialogue in our day-to-day lives creates the difference between misery and defeat, on the one hand, and success and satisfaction, on the other. The following guidelines will help you communicate what you intend in committee meetings, hallway briefings on the state of a project, explanations of your expense account, trade-show-floor exchanges, or dinner with your boss and spouse.

    Tip 1. Recognize that Those in Less Powerful Positions Want to Win Your Goodwill; Interpret Their Words and Behavior Accordingly.

    If you’re the boss, you’re going to get more attention to your preferences, quicker responses to your requests, and overt approval of your ideas. Don’t, however, jump to the conclusion that all this happens because you’re necessarily an excellent communicator, that your requests have more merit than those of others, or that your ideas are necessarily better. If you want honest feedback in your position of power, you’ll have to work hard for it.

    Tip 2. As a Powerful Person if You Want to Build Rapport with Others, Remove the Status Symbols and Power Barriers.

    Be aware of the kind of power you have with different groups. You have reward power if you can somehow positively influence what will happen to another person. You have coercive power if you can negatively influence another person’s future. You have positional power if by your position as boss or director or police officer or flight attendant you can force your will upon another. You have expert power over someone if you have knowledge that this person needs. You have referent power over people if you can influence them through your personality. Being aware of these power pockets forces you to take your interactions with certain people more seriously. They will.

    If you want to minimize this power and relate to others on an equal footing—if you want an honest opinion that they may be reluctant to give—remove the status reminders. You may want to sit beside them, not across the desk from them. You may want to arrive at the cocktail party in your own car, not in a limo. You may want to take off your name badge and introduce yourself without the title. You may want to join them in the lounge rather than invite them to the country club.

    Rapport building hinges on such small steps.

    Tip 3. Assess Others’ Knowledge and Experiences Exactly.

    If you assume that your listeners are more knowledgeable than they are, they may misunderstand your message, give up on trying to understand your explanations, or become frustrated or angry because they think you’re “putting on airs.”

    A vice president at a large oil company attended a session where he’d asked the controller to explain to the first-line supervisors and managers how to complete a specific form justifying their annual budget requests. During the opening session, the controller illustrated the budget form using a figure of several million dollars for the purchase of equipment. At the break, the vice president wisely took the controller aside and asked her to lower the dollar amounts so as not to make the supervisors feel small because their responsibilities did not involve such large expenditures. That vice president picked up on an important subtlety.

    On the other hand, you can err in the opposite direction. If you assume that your listeners know less than they actually do, they may feel that you are insulting their intelligence, boring them, or wasting their time on information they already know. Aim to meet them exactly at their knowledge and interest level. To do that, ask yourself five questions: What is their primary interest in this situation, event, or issue? How much do they already know, and from what source and perspective are they likely to have received information? How will they use the information for themselves? Why would they want to know this? What reaction will they have to the subject: Skepticism and doubt? Loss of face? Defensiveness? Support? These answers will help you reach them appropriately eye to eye.

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    Tip 4. Set a Level Playing Field.

    Before you speak, make sure that what you’re about to say doesn’t contain words or phrases that imply your superiority. Example: “I want you to meet Jana Jones, who works for me” versus “I want you to meet Jana Jones, who works with me.” Example: “Haven’t I told you not to bother me with those kinds of details?” versus “I’d prefer that you handle those kinds of details without involving me.” Example: “I try to spend as much time abroad as possible when my job allows it” versus “I like to travel when I have the time.”

    Tip 5. Avoid Coming Across as a One-Directional Communicator.

    Several years ago, I was standing in a trade-show booth when a man walked up, stuck out his hand to shake mine, and began: “My name’s __________. I notice we’re competitors here at the show. We have a booth over the way, number 399. You probably remember that Ford RFP that came out about four months ago. Well, if you’re wondering about it, we’ve got it sewed up. I understand your people bid on it. That was really a formality, because one of the VPs there had already made contact with us and wanted us in. That was an easy sale for us. You know what I mean? Don’t you wish all of them were that easy? It’s going to be a big contract. Three hundred thousand before they’re through. Well, nice to meet you. Just wanted to stop by and say hello.”

    All of this came out without his ever taking a breath and without my ever having an opportunity (or inclination) to cut in and respond. Don’t be a hit-and-run speaker.

    Tip 6. Avoid Getting a Reputation as a Manipulator.

    People with strong personalities sometimes take advantage of less able communicators—or those with no goal for a particular conversation or meeting. They manipulate others before their victims realize what’s happening. They outsmart people by seducing them with flirting. They deceive them with misused facts. They pretend to feel something that they don’t. They shame others into acting against their best interests. They dominate others through sheer tone. They play martyr when it suits them. They tempt others with unkept promises and false power. Over time, such tactics work against the people who use them.

    Tip 7. Be Interested, Not Just Interesting.

    The heart of this principle involves putting aside self-interest long enough to devote attention to someone else. Yes, we are attracted to life-of-the-party people because they amuse us. But interested people win us. They make us want to stick to them like glue. Nothing is so flattering as to have someone show personal interest in our job, our background, our experience, or our views.

    Tip 8. To Express Interest in Someone, Soften Whatever It Is You’re Doing.

    Soften your voice, soften your tone, soften your smile, soften your posture, soften your touch, soften your eye contact, or soften your nod. Softening communicates openness.

    Tip 9. Use Radical Language to Be a Leader.

    You have to shake people out of complacency in order to lead them in a new direction. Focus to inspire followership. Intrigue others to tempt them to make a change with you.

    Tip 10. Have a Sense of the Dramatic When You Talk.

    Would you rather have someone tell you about a movie or see it for yourself? So would I. We like action––in the voice, in the face, in the body, in the scene. Add a funny twist to the story. Use description to set the scene. Add gestures to give a story a sense of place. The only benefit you as a conversationalist have over a manual or an email is animation. Use it.

  • About the Author

    Dianna Booher’s extensive and ongoing research and published works in the field of business communication and productivity serve as the foundation for over 40 books on communication skills training . Dianna has received the highest awards in the professional speaking industry, including induction into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame®. She is a member of the prestigious Speakers Roundtable. As a result of Dianna's work among top corporations on communication issues, Executive Excellence magazine has recognized Dianna on its list of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in America. Additionally, Successful Meetings magazine named Dianna on its list of 21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century! Dianna has been interviewed by Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, USA Today, the Washington Post, New York Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal Radio, National Public Radio, Bloomberg, Investors Business Daily, Fox Family Network, Reader's Digest, Working Woman, Industry Week, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Success, Entrepreneur, among other national radio, TV, and newspapers. She holds a master's degree in English from the University of Houston.

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Coaching and Managing Teams with Confidence

Coaching and Managing Teams with Confidence is a classic business communication resource to get your message across clearly, tactfully, and confidently in common management situations. This series of quick tips is a credible guide to decisive communication, while also serving as a perfect resource for mobile, social media and digital communications on the go. Excellent communication skills are a key factor in most career success stories, and this resource for managers will take the guesswork out of how to communicate with team members and executive management.

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