Old Ben was more right than he knew. The phrase is usually credited to him because he used it in an essay (Advice to a Young Tradesman, 1748). The actual phrase was recorded in 1719 in the magazine The Free-Thinker.
No matter who originated it, your employees only have so much time every day, so it behoves you to make sure they know how to use it wisely. They may have every good intention, but if their communication skills are not up to par, they may be providing you less than ideal return on investment.
Whenever your employees engage in a conversation, whether it's on the shop floor, in a client's office, a sales call, or a meeting, its critical that they communicate clearly, concisely, and get to point quickly.
In the book "The First Minute
" by Chris Fenning, he explains how the first minute of any conversation is the most critical. His book describes how to start a conversation (The First Minute) in order to get the results you want.
In his introduction, Chris states “Each time we start a conversation, we know what we are going to talk about and why it’s important. Unfortunately, the people we speak to don’t know either of these things.”
Basically, the author is saying that we’re making a lot of assumptions, and many of them may not be accurate. As a result, we either waste someone’s time, or more damaging, they start with different assumptions and different context, and we end up miscommunicating, which can be detrimental to our reputation and the project or sale we’re working on.
As Chris explains it, “When we start communicating, our audience’s brains must work to understand the context of the words. They try to work out why we are talking to them and what they need to do with the information. If these things aren’t clear in the first few sentences their minds create their own version of the facts. This leads to many problems, from wasted time to incorrect assumptions and high-cost mistakes.”
Every conversation we enter should have a clear intent, with us addressing only one topic at a time, with a focus on the solution, instead of the problem. Of course, if the problem needs to be defined and understood, we should do that first, but as concisely and clearly as possible.
Mr. Fenning addresses the most common causes of miscommunication:
1. Lack of context. Without a basic understanding of the background and issues, the listener will be spending most of their time playing catch-up instead of listening and understanding.
2. Unclear purpose. Your conversation should have a clear purpose, such as clarifying a problem or a solution and how to understand it and fix it.
3. Not getting to the point. Need I say more.
4. Mixing up multiple topics in the same conversation. You always need to be clear and concise.
5. Lengthy, unclear summaries. We’ve all been in meetings or conversations where we, or the other party, try to answer all the questions and address all the issues as we sum up the conversation. Often, we’ll mentions topics that we didn’t even discuss because we are trying to be thorough.
To avoid presenting a vague, imprecise, or ambiguous summary, Mr. Fenning suggests three components that we should include in a structured summary:
1. Include the goal you are trying to achieve
2. Include the problem or issue stopping you from reaching that goal, and
3. Suggest the solution to the problem.
It's not necessary to start every conversation by immediately launching into the issue or problem at hand. In most business settings, you’re allowed to set the stage, participate in greetings, getting to know you exchanges, and even a bit of banter. But, when it’s time to get serious, get right to it, be ready to engage with a well-structured, well-thought-out conversation.
T.S. Matthews, an American magazine editor, journalist, and author who served as editor of Time magazine from 1949 to 1953, said “Communication is something so simple and difficult that we can never put it in simple words”.
Having your team always ready in every situation to communicate clearly will pay dividends again and again. A solid investment indeed.
If you would like to know more about what are the best investments to make in your employees, our professionals at ASN would love to have that conversation. Just give us a call.