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How to Master the Art of Communication

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Each of us is 100% unique, even twins or triplets. While their DNA may be remarkably the same, they’re not absolute clones of each other. There will still be a few variables that will make them unique, even if they look remarkably similar. So what about the rest of us? We’re all different, from our DNA to our physical size, skin color, background … everything.

And yet we too often act as though how we see the world is the way everyone does. We use terms we understand, we write as we would want to see it, and we’re often surprised to find out that someone else “misunderstood” us when we thought we were being so clear!

I’m sure most of us can remember at least one time – either in a personal or professional area – when we were misunderstood or we didn’t understand someone else. Did we lay blame on the other person, certain that we couldn’t have made such an error? Did we take it upon ourselves to straighten things out? Did we take the time to learn from it or just move on?

Success wears many hats, and one of them is clear communication – clear to the sender and the receiver. If we can’t be clear, we can get a reputation for being difficult to deal with, and who needs that?  

Here are three ways to strengthen your communication skills, which will give you more of the results you want, and help you look and sound like someone others want to be around.

1. Use this version of the KISS acronym

Keep it short and simple. Many of us prefer to use “utilize” rather than “use,” but there’s no need to do that, especially in business writing. We don’t need to be a walking version of a thesaurus. Simple, easily understood language works best in most cases.

2. Be clear about your timeframes

Steer clear of terms like “soon,” “later,” or especially ASAP. That acronym (as soon as possible) has led to many unexpected results. Your thought may be “by tomorrow at 5,” but the other person’s might be “when I get to it.” Without clarity, there could be a tough conversation later about why something was done late or too quickly.

As an example: Recently a group received this message: “If we didn’t already send the new policy out to everyone, we need to do it asap!”

The person in charge of sending stuff out did just that within an hour. But the intent of the note was only to find out if we had already sent the policy out. If we hadn’t, we would then do so with a note explaining why it was being sent out now.

“Communication is power. Those who have mastered its effective use can change their own experience of the world and the world’s experience of them. All behaviour and feelings find in their original roots ini some form of communication.” – Tony Robbins

3. Reinforce the wanted behavior

Many of us have heard others (maybe ourselves?) say: Don’t forget to … do whatever. But how many times has the person hearing it promptly done just that? Forgotten to do it? And yet, they were actually doing exactly what they heard, which was the wrong verb. Verbs are powerful words, often indicating action, and our brain responds to them very well, even if incorrectly in some cases.

Years ago, I heard a young woman at a swimming pool do something I thought was remarkable. Her kids, along with several others, were running around as kids do – which is a dangerous thing at a swimming pool – and instead of saying “Kids! Stop running!” she called out, “Kids! Walk slowly, please!”

The result? The kids stopped as though they’d hit a wall. They walked. Of course, being kids, they also finally started running again. And each time, she repeated in a friendly voice, “Kids! Remember to walk!” I was astonished, so I asked her about what she’d said. She told me she was a grade school teacher, and she’d learned over time that telling kids what not to do reinforced them doing just that: what she didn’t want! Ending her request with a verb that was the opposite of what she was asking was doing immense harm. Saying “Don’t run!” actually caused the kids to continue running most of the time.

She learned to focus on the result she wanted – telling them to sit, or read, or line up for recess – whatever she was looking for, and it worked. The other upside to this is that no one felt accused of being about to do the wrong thing. The minute we say “Don’t forget to send out the memo,” our voice may well sound accusatory, especially if this is a typical issue. And even if our voice is steady, it’s entirely possible the listener may think, “What! Does she really need to tell me that? When have I ever forgotten?”

Airline personnel are experts in knowing to never say “Don’t panic!” when something scary happens like suddenly dropping several hundred feet, because it would plant the very seed they do not want. So they focus on the positives, on the needed results, helping the passengers stay calmer than they might otherwise be able to. They use the right language.

“All passengers, please return to your seats. Please buckle your seatbelt and remain seated. Be sure to put on your own mask before helping others.” All positive and constructive language. Of course, the passengers may still be scared, but the language is at least not making that scary experience worse for most. We do what we’re told; we don’t have to even think about it.

Clear communication is both an art and a skill, and over the years, I’ve found that remembering at least these three ideas has allowed me to build stronger and more positive bonds between myself and others.

Susan Rooks formed Grammar Goddess Communication in 1995 to help business professionals strengthen their communication skills. As an editor, she has worked on award-winning children’s and business books, web content, and corporate blogs and annual reports, ensuring that all material is professionally presented and free from grammatical errors. As an international corporate educator, she creates and leads three-hour in-person “Brush Up on Your Skills” workshops in American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills (including DiSC®). In 2020, she converted those to 60- and 90-minute Zoom sessions. Susan also offers one-hour FREE LinkedIn Profile Basics workshops to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations or nonprofits, mainly via Zoom, to help business pros maximize their presence there. She is a BIZCATALYST360 columnist, and her only goal is to help business pros look and sound as smart as they are. For more info: GrammarGoddess.com.

Success Advice

5 Tips Business Leaders Should Encourage for High Performance Growth

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As leaders, it is essential to seek and encourage new ways to add growth to your business. It helps to keep the company relevant and agile in times of competition surges. Having the ability to think and work smarter is a positive aspect of making a leader’s job more straightforward. Doing all the things you encourage yourself, creates respect among your workforce for you and each other. Small leadership qualities like this help provide a valued and healthy addition to a happy workplace. (more…)

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How to Use Psychological Distance to Become a Better Problem Solver

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Life is about finding a way of living that makes you the happiest. However, that’s not always easy, and we all have to deal with obstacles and problems we don’t expect. Whether your problems stem from work, personal or emotional matters, a simple mindset shift can change how you go about them. That’s the art of problem solving, and with the help of a little-known phenomenon called psychological distance, that’s what we’re going to dive into today. (more…)

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What Is Missing in Most People’s Goal-Setting Strategy

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If you ever want to make progress, you need to have a goal-setting strategy. But I find that a goal-setting strategy alone isn’t enough for us to achieve our goals, you need to be creating a goal-getting strategy as well. This is a hack designed to help you from merely setting goals to knowing fully what actions you need to take and getting them done. There are several elements to this strategy that I find people time and again forgetting about. (more…)

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Success Advice

Plan for Failure on Your Road to Success

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The quality that separates success from failure is the ability to keep moving forward in the face of failure — or even many failures. We speak from experience when it comes from overcoming failure. For every success we’ve had in our business, there are probably 10 failures to go with it. We’re not ashamed of that in the least. We’ve come to understand that the failures are an essential part of our growth.

We’ve created a multimillion-dollar company and brought an industry perceived as dark, disreputable and dirty more into the mainstream. Our company, Club Tattoo, is a chain of luxury tattoo and piercing studios. This success did not come easy. 

Still, quitting has never been an option, even in those times when it seemed we were backed into a corner. If we quit, not only would we lose everything we’d worked so hard for, but we have a passion — even an obsession — for what we’re establishing. Success happens through hard work, endless enthusiasm and moving forward despite the fear. We also believe that in a business context, luck is just being ready when an opportunity comes along.

Other entrepreneurs experiencing bumps in their road to success can learn from the challenges we’ve faced and overcome. Here are a few tips to navigating the tough times.

1. Understand what makes a partner tick

Most people enter a partnership out of fear. They’re scared to take on the risk of whatever business they’re starting alone. Throughout our careers, we’ve had business partnerships and learned from some early ones that went south. Partnering with band members in a rock band and with friends in a recording studio taught us some tough lessons. The biggest contributing causes to the failures involved the lack of a foundation of solid communication, cohesive goals and strategies to reach those goals. Learning to trust in your partner is an essential ingredient in a successful partnership. Stay in your lane and honor your partner’s roles. Make sure those roles are well-defined so that conflicts over boundaries are kept to a minimum.

2. Harness the power of mentorship

We’ve both had mentors that weren’t experts in any one field per se, yet they had more life experience, and their guidance was invaluable. The people we truly feel grateful for are the ones who encouraged us to keep going when we felt like quitting. As busy business owners, we know it’s hard to dedicate the time needed to engage regularly with a mentor. But it’s crucial for small business owners to have one who can get them through the tough times.

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”- Napoleon Hill

3. Communicate a consistent message to your customers

For a business to take hold within a given market, it must communicate a consistent message to its target audience over time. The consistency of your message will reinforce the dependability of your company, build trust from your clients and eventually develop brand loyalty from the consumer. Our message is that we are an upscale “studio” rather than a “parlor,” and our clients can see that we’re different. Pinpoint and focus on the one thing you do better than your competitors. Perfect it, call attention to it and make it “your thing.” When your customers routinely travel past your competitors to get to your business, you have a brand that people are seeking.

4. Realize that challenges are the times in which you learn

Most of us have hit low spots or been overcome with failures that at the time didn’t seem like they could be overcome. It’s the passion and desire of the true entrepreneur that will get them through the rough times. If you’d asked us in 2019 whether we thought we’d ever go out of business, we’d have answered with a resounding “Not a chance.” Then came COVID. When we were forced to close our Club Tattoo studios, we began to understand the economic impact was going to be severe and we needed to formulate a strategy to survive.

Receiving PPP funding from the government was pivotal and enabled us to keep our staff on payroll. We knew from past experience that we had to trust our instincts. We used most of our savings to remodel our studios to make a better and safer work environment. We kept our company’s mission of creating an atmosphere that made people feel safe and comfortable in mind, while focusing on our core concepts: art and expression.

It’s those rough times and failures that are the driving forces that cause successful entrepreneurs to rise above and, over time, become great success stories.

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