One of my all-time favorite commercials is a 1989 United Airlines spot that featured a business owner who has called a meeting with his sales team to report about a customer that “fired” the company. “We used to do business with a handshake, face-to-face,” the business owner says. “Now, it’s a phone call and a fax… get back to you later… with another fax, probably.” He decides that has to change, and begins to hand out airline tickets.
Twenty-one years have passed and, unfortunately, some of today’s sales people are repeating the sins of that company—blaming the economy and limited resources for the reason handshakes have been replaced by email and text messages. Today, we have twice the number of ways to communicate with others and I contend we are only half as efficient and effective as the sales professionals of 1989. Perhaps we don’t stop long enough to consider the best vehicle to transmit our selling and marketing messages before they’re well on their way.
History of communication
Communication between two individuals is a dynamic process that evolves over time and has many components—all of which can be studied. In fact, the Greek philosopher and teacher Aristotle, introduced the first model of communication around 335 B.C. He stated, “A speaker discovers rational (logos), emotional (pathos), and ethical (ethos) proofs, arranges them strategically, clothes the ideas in clear and compelling words, and delivers the product appropriately.”
Fast forward to 1949, when Claude Shannon, an engineer for the Bell Telephone Company, along with university professor Warren Weaver designed the most influential and recognized of all communication models. Their goal was to formulate a mathematical theory to guide the efforts of engineers in finding the most efficient way of transmitting electrical signals from one location to another.
In 1954, Wilbur Schramm, noted author and “father of communications studies,” was one of the first to alter the communication model of Shannon and Weaver. He described decoding and encoding as activities that took place simultaneously by sender and receiver—thus, adding the feedback loop—and made provisions for a two-way interchange of messages.
Many people may find the history of communications models to be boring and irrelevant. But it is the best way to examine and analyze the different parts of the process so as to identify the occurrence and cause of a breakdown in communications. This breakdown is really the only thing we care about when customers stop buying, employees quit, spouses file for divorce, and children become estranged from their parents. Difficulties in communication are also derived from the environment in which the message transmission takes place, as well as the diverse cultural, educational and experiential backgrounds of speaker and receiver.
Time, love and tenderness
In the early 70s, an information scientist and a linguist at the University of California at Santa Cruz wanted to know the secrets of effective people—what makes them perform and achieve accomplishments better than others. They were especially interested in the possibility of being able to emulate the behavior and, in turn the competence of these highly effective individuals. They began studying how successful people communicated—in particular, their words, tone, body language, eye movements, etc.—and they labeled their work Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
NLP recognizes that all communication begins with the message that the sender wants to convey. That message is broken down into the actual words which, surprisingly, constitute only 7 percent of the entire thought. Consider, for example, how many different meanings can be derived from a child’s statement, “Mom, can I tell you what happened at school today?” It can be anything from utter elation to embarrassment, seeking forgiveness and so on, depending on which word is emphasized and the accompanying body language. Tonal inflection accounts for 38 percent and the non-verbals, the remaining 55 percent.
Think of all the ways a message can be transmitted in today’s world—face-to-face meetings, web conferences, phone calls, voicemail, text or instant messages, emails, faxes, blogs and tweets, old-fashioned letters via snail mail, and conventional advertising. All have their advantages and shortcomings when it comes to the original thought equaling the message the receiver gets and how fast that process takes.
When a thought pops into one’s head and the need arises to share it with another, a good communicator quickly assesses six important issues:
• What do I want the other person to know?
• How will the other person feel about the info, or, what do I want them to feel?
• What do I want or expect the other person to do?
• How much time do I have to deliver the message?
• How important is it that I get a response or receive new information?
• How likely is it that the words may be misinterpreted if I don’t use the right tone and/or nonverbal signals?
With all the ways to communicate with others today, perhaps we don’t stop long enough to consider the best vehicle to achieve the above—to transmit our selling and marketing messages before they’re well on their way.
One example of this is sending upsetting news or angry replies. There used to be a good rule-of-thumb about sending these—write it out and let it ‘ferment’ for a period of time; if you still think it’s the right thing to do, go for it. The majority of the time either the message was rewritten, softened or never sent. Today, it takes but a few minutes to bang out an encrypted or ill-advised text or email and hit the ‘SEND’ button too hastily.
On the other hand, consider the low-tech stand-by—the mailed letter or postcard. If the markings on the envelope (i.e. hand-written or personalized address, eye-catching return address or graphics) are intriguing, provocative and/or distinctive enough to stand out among the usual junk mail one receives, there’s a better-than-average chance of having the piece opened, read and acted upon because you took the time to package the message in an engaging and unique way. Remember, people buy from people who they like, trust, and with whom it is convenient to do business. Good luck.
This month’s broad strokes include:
Some sales organizations blame the tough economy and limited resources for the reason face-to-face meetings and handshakes have been replaced by email and text messages.
Reviewing the history of communications models it is the best way to examine the different parts of the process; to analyze it so as to have fewer breakdowns in communications.
A good communicator assesses, in short order, important factors—what she wants the receiver to know, feel and do; how efficiently the message can be sent and received; how important it is to get a timely response, and how likely it is that the message is accurately interpreted.