Communication Skills: The Essence of Communication Part 2 - The Mental Approach

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Also known as “the $20 Billion Dollar Issue”

By Carolyn Crawford

Depending on the Communications Training you choose, this area may not be given as much emphasis as it could be, usually because it’s harder to ‘teach’, and seemingly less tangible than the physical preparation and ‘live’ skills. Having said that, like elite athletes, all with the same intensely high levels of physical fitness and preparation, it’s often in the mental arena that the contest is ultimately won or lost.

So what does that mean when it comes to communication? It simply means that your attitude will affect your performance and ultimately the outcome.

By way of some more obvious examples: if you go into a sale, desperate to get over the line with this month’s target, the client will sense the discomfort, there won’t be such an easy rapport and the likelihood of achieving the sale is lessened. A win-lose attitude in a negotiation might see you ‘win the battle but lose the war’ in terms of the longer-term trust and on-going relationship. A fearful approach to presenting will zap your confidence, impact and ability to influence.

At a more subtle level, some discomfort around managing a team member’s poor performance or behaviour will lessen the likelihood of a constructive conversation and a positive change in their future performance. Being confident about your worth when entering a salary review will make all the difference to how you present your case and how your manager perceives your worth.

Now many will say that the confidence and ‘right’ attitude are the result of good Physical Preparation and therefore the issue of Mental Preparation can’t be tackled separately. I agree that certainly good physical preparation can affect your confidence, but experience also shows me that considering the mental angle in its own right, can substantially affect the efficiency and effectiveness of the physical preparation process. So the question of course begging to be asked at this point in time is, “what’s the right mental approach?”

And let me clarify here that we’re talking about an overarching approach rather than mental techniques. There are some genuinely practical tools to be taken from the sports psychology arena which we discuss in our blog ‘sports psychology for communicators’. Here, however, I’d like to discuss what I consider to be the ‘mother of all attitudes’ which is best summed up by the saying “the more you focus on them, the better the likely outcome for you!”

Taking the sales examples above, the evolution in selling techniques has certainly reflected this focus over time. Sean McPheat (http://www.seanmcpheat.com/ ) who specializes in e-selling, talks about the shift from the “show up and throw up” era where a salesperson would bombard the victim with product information and bulldoze them into a sale, to the “consultative selling revolution” where the most effective salespeople found success through questioning and listening - understanding the buyer’s wants, desires, needs and pain-points and then helping them to find solutions to those needs.

I experienced this revolution first-hand when I shifted from external pressure to “network and sell”, to my own interpretation which was to “make friends and help people”. As soon as I thought of it this way, I made my cold-calls, and walked into those meetings, with a personal integrity and a relaxed air that was unachievable when I focused on ‘selling’. I was in my mid-20’s, I was new to corporate training, I had limited experience in the industry and was selling to people far older and smarter than me. But I believed we had training that was genuinely different and relevant in its approach and I went forth to make friends, chat with people, understand them professionally and personally and let them know there was something different out there should they be interested in training based in authenticity. And lo and behold, I started to build a substantial and loyal client base, who remain friends and colleagues to this day.

When I head into training thinking it’s all about me “getting it right, being credible and having the answers” I feel stressed and worried. When I shift to “they don’t give a toss about you Carolyn Crawford. Let’s see what we can do to help them use this stuff to make a difference in their lives” I feel open and confident. We talk in our ‘Simply Presenting’ workshop about being ‘audience-conscious’ rather than ‘self-conscious’. “What can I do for them? How can I help them? How can I guide them to a good decision and give them some genuinely useful business cases?” versus “I’ve got to look good, be impressive, get through my information fluently and put on an authoritative face”. It’s the difference between acting confidently and being confident.

The same idea has far broader application. The book “It's Not About You: A Little Story About What Matters Most In Business” by Bob Burg and John David Mann exemplifies this ‘focus on others’ in a terrific little parable about a man tasked with taking over a small family-owned business who discovers leadership lessons along the way that point him back to the basics of looking after your customers, your staff and the public.

This of course is not new news. I remember the 90’s being highly focused on triple bottom-line accounting which measured organisational success via economic, ecological and social standards. I was reading books like “Rediscovering the Soul Of Business” and “The New Bottom Line”, about reclaiming the humanness that had been discarded by the workplace and blending the worlds of commerce and human consciousness. The stockmarket saw the rise of ‘ethical equity funds’. And Anita Roddick’s Body Shop was exploding across the globe based in good old fashioned “hippie values” – looking after customers, suppliers and staff as much as shareholders (when they eventually listed).

As recently as last month Greg Smith single-handedly wiped $2 billion of Goldman Sach’s market value overnight when he resigned citing the change in culture over the years from customer focus to unbridled greed.

So what does this mean for our communication? It means there’s a long history of evidence to prove that whether we’re selling, negotiating, presenting, resolving conflict, managing our staff or participating in a weekly meeting, if we genuinely focus on listening to other party, connecting with them and supporting them, rather than getting caught up in the latest technique to help us achieve our own goals, we massively improve our chances of a positive rapport, a good understanding and a solid relationship that has the capacity to be mutually beneficial for many, many years into the future.

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