Like anything else in life, communication is the key in business.
Whatever your business is, whatever you sell, you will need to communicate clearly so that your team understands what your business stands for and what their instructions are, you will need to communicate effectively with customers so that they understand exactly what it is you are selling and telling them, and you need to communicate with suppliers to ensure you are both on the same page.
Whether you are staring a change management initiative or trying to provide better customer service, good, clear, effective and efficient communication is vital.
How many times have you told someone what to do, and when it is done, comes out different from what you expected? Is it their fault that they did not listen to you, or is it yours for not being clear?
How many times have you listened to a customer ask for something, and when you gave them what they asked for they tell you that wasn’t what they were after? Was it their fault for not explaining clearly what they wanted, or was it yours for not listening closely enough?
More often or not it is both parties’ fault, but “fault” is probably a bad word to use. It’s more like it’s both parties’ nature to misunderstand!
What do I mean by that?
Most of the time when we communicate, even with the best of intentions, our most compelling priority is to get our message across. This happens whether you are talking or listening. At the point in your conversation when you are talking, you are clearly putting your point across. This happens when you are listening as well, because when we listen, we listen to see how what we hear accords with our message and we get ready to respond.
Think of a time when you listened as intently as you could. Perhaps it was a customer asking if your product could handle a specific situation. You know it can and you try to get the message across, but that may not have been why the customer asked the question. The conversation may have gone something like this:
Customer: “Does your website design service allow for me to change the background colour from time to time?”
You (thinking, yes I can change each page when you want it): “Yes I can do that, and each page can change independently.”
Customer: “I’ll get you to design my website then!”
Later, the Customer rings up and says, “I want to change the background of the Home Page, what do I do?” It is only then that you find out she wants to do it herself and your offer of “doing it for her” is rejected. She is not happy: “That’s not what you said.”
You say: “But that is what I said.”
Both are right, both are wrong.
One of the simplest communication techniques is called LACE. It’s an acronym that stands for Listen, Acknowledge, Check, and Explore.
Once you understand it, it is a great idea to train your team and practice using it with your team, insisting that everyone consciously uses it for an initial period of time until it becomes automatic. Obviously you cannot train your customers or suppliers, but once you know it and use it well, it becomes incumbent on you to call the shots in any conversations with them so that they, unknowingly participate in using LACE.
So what is LACE?
As I said above it stands for Listen, Acknowledge, Check and Explore, and it is entered into in that order.
“Listen” means to listen actively. Put down your phone, that pen, the doodle you were drawing, stop looking over their shoulder, stop thinking of lunch – listen actively by looking at them, understand their words and sentences, and nod and appreciate as you listen (physically nodding and grunting “uhuh” has been shown to concentrate the mind on what is being said). How many times have you seen someone “listening” while they type on a keyboard or look out the window? Stop it!
Having listened actively, you “acknowledge”. You do this while you are listening actively by nodding and making sounds of agreement and acknowledgement, but you can and should also do this by repeating what they said. For example you can say that before you answer you’d like to write down the key things they said. This act of acknowledging shows that both of you are participating in this conversation at the same time and invites them to be clear and to see that they are understood.
Acknowledgement slips into “checking” if you start to repeat what they said or write down some key points. However you also have to be explicit about this, and often it is best to actually say, “now I just want to make sure I absolutely understand, when you said….did you mean….?”
In our example at the beginning if you had said, “Let me just check, when you said “allow me to change the background”, did you mean you specifically or that you could get it changed?” the conversation would have been a lot clearer.
Finally, you can “explore”.
Now, based on our natural tendency to get our own message across, most of us have a terrible habit of – listen, explore, listen, explore – and that sequence just does not allow the other party to get their message to you clearly because you are always trying to see how what you hear fits in with what you want to say. Using the sequence listen, acknowledge, check, explore, allows you to explore different avenues only after you have understood what they are trying to say.
Having done that you can then try “okay so what you really want is a website that (a) can have the background colour change easily, and (b) where you can change it yourself – but let me ask if we can change (b) to where I can change it for you at no cost, or at little cost considering your own valuable time?”
Doing this allows a better result to emerge from two different viewpoints.
So there you have it, the art of “LACE” that should be wrapped around your conversations and indeed, any form of communication. Try it, then try it with your team. Make everyone aware of the technique, then for the next few weeks when you have discussions or meetings, say “let’s use LACE” so that everyone is reminded and watches the sequence they enter into – listen, acknowledge, check and explore. The team can even explicitly say “ok now that I have listened, I would like to acknowledge what you just said.” It might seem clunky at first but habits are made from being explicit and repetitive.
Once you have it happening naturally, watch out when you have conversations with people outside the team and use it – “I hear you, now let me just check….”
Tell me what you think? Will this help you receive and send clear messages? Leave your comment or question at teikoh.com and start the conversation!
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