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Communication – Part #172

I talk about communication a lot, which is why this is probably part 172!

However joking aside communication is probably one of the most critical skills anyone in business, or working in a customer-facing role must master.

It is communication that allows you to convey your vision to your team and to your customers. It is communication that leads people, communication that melds a team into a productive group of people working as one, rather than a group of individuals working “together”. It is communication that builds trust in you, and it is communication that tells your customer you are on his side.

In “Communication – Part 172″ (and I am being facetious) I’d like to deal with how professionals communicate with their clients. I have already written elsewhere about how you should avoid jargon, but this time let me talk about how communicating your skill needs more than knowledge about your skill, it needs experience about how your skill is used to help.

Let me set the scene.

Let’s say a client rings his lawyer to discuss the potential sale of his business. She says that in order to encourage the buyer during the negotiations, she’d like to provide the purchaser with a list of steps on how to legally negotiate new contracts with employees. She has already verbally said what might be negotiated but said she would ask someone to outline the legal steps to take, and provide that “checklist” to the purchaser. She told her lawyer what she thought could be negotiated and what she thought the steps would be and wanted confirmation.

The lawyer first says, “Well, those are the basic steps but it’s not that simple.”

“Oh”, the client says, “I’m sure it isn’t but can you send me a note about the steps?”

“And what if the staff don’t agree?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” the lawyer continues, “you have now made representations. Representations could be part of the contract. If the staff don’t agree to the terms the buyer could take an action against you for making false representations.”

The client is a little bemused at this stage because what she thought was a simple request is being met with a litigator’s series of confronting questions.

“I don’t think I made a representation, I simply told him what could be done, I didn’t say they would be guaranteed!”

And you can see that from there the conversation deteriorates. The lawyer thinks he is doing the right thing, knowing the law is his skill and he thinks that all he is doing is telling her about the risks he sees – as a result of his skill.

Meanwhile, the client is wondering who’s side he is on and feels like she is in the witness box. The legal skill is being expressed, without any emotional intelligence. The lawyer is on the point of losing a client while actually doing his job.

So how should it have gone, with the use of emotional intelligence during the expression of knowledge?

“Communication” in this case should have been about how his skill is an aide to his client, not a display of knowledge. First, should he not have established he was on her side?

“I see what you are trying to do, I think you want to show the purchaser that there are clear steps to take, right?” or “I don’t see what you are trying to do – can you tell me why exactly you want to provide the purchaser with this checklist?” would immediately put him beside, not in front of, his client. This opening also allows him to understand what is actually required, and what is required is not a dissertation of the law. This opening asks for confirmation or expansion so that he can use his skill to give a solution – outcome, not output.

Once he fully understands what she is trying to do, then, he can use his skill – his knowledge of the law – to provide the solution: “Okay now I understand what you want to do, I can easily provide a checklist, that’s just a listing of the legal steps to take that frankly, I can copy out of a text book. However let’s look at how you should provide that checklist to the purchaser.”

Now standing beside her and clearly o her side helping her, he can go through what to do and not to do as she provides things to the purchaser that would be or not be representations.

In two steps, rather than challenging what she has done as being dangerous in law, he has used his skills to help her understand what can and cannot be done. Instead of feeling intimidated she is grateful and responsive. Perhaps even responsive enough for him to then suggest:-

“Look, I now know what your situation is, why don’t I meet with you and the purchaser to make sure that not only this checklist is properly handled, but also to ensure and protect you in the overall sale?”

Instead of losing a client he has gained more work!

Tricky thing, communication isn’t it?

No, not really – if the lawyer had spoken to his life-partner like that (“So when you called the garage to fix the car and you said yo needed help, what was your tone of voice?”) he would probably have got an earful. It’s that simple – providing professional advice uses emotional intelligence as much as discussing household chores. It is not about what you know, it s about how ionise what you know and how that is communicated.

How well do you communicate your skills? Have you been on the receiving end of a well-educated but poor-communicating professional? Let me know.

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