Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies

--Guest Post, Karen Friedman, author of Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners

As I post to this blog, I find myself in a unique situation that can certainly be characterized as a 'communication'. Over the summer, I had dinner with the wife of a business colleague of mine. She is passionate about her political beliefs, which are polar opposite of mine, and feverishly tried to engage me in debate. But, I resisted, knowing the conversation would only get heated and I might lose a client. As I booted up my PC this morning, my in-box contained an article that reinforced her political beliefs and took aim at mine. Truth be told, I wanted to let her have it--to correct and dispute her. But nothing good would come of it. Instead, I emailed her back and politely replied: “Thanks for sending, but I don’t want to engage in this discussion with you since we are on opposite sides the fence, and I don’t agree." I thought that was the end of it. To my surprise and offense, I received a scathing long-winded response chastising me for not “engaging in debate” and failing to defend my position, exposing myself only “to those who agree with you." Wow. What to do?

Against my better judgment, I couldn’t resist the urge to engage. Taking a page from my own book, I carefully avoided negative words and personal attacks. I kept it short and said I felt no need to “defend” because having a different opinion is my right. I respected her opinion even if I didn’t agree with it. I wrote “Let’s just leave this alone...We should agree to disagree rather than engage in personal attacks." Case closed?

Moments ago [at the time this blog entry was written], an even longer, nastier email calling me “condescending”, “uninformed” and  “misguided” was staring me in the face. I had a clear choice: cease or continue. Believe me, I wanted to continue, but I chose the former. It has nothing to do with the possibility of losing a client. But, it’s important to understand that this isn’t all that different from a business meeting. An attacker may continually disagree with your point of view just for the sake of being difficult, showing off to the boss, or trying to prove you wrong. Attackers love to make it personal if they think they can provoke you. That’s why when communicating in business, it’s critical not to address differences with emotions.

I am big on humanizing information so a listener can relate emotionally in order to connect to what he or she is saying. But in some cases, it’s more important to consider the bigger picture: the final outcome. Your communication choice to engage in personalities goes beyond the two differing parties. It can turn into a whisper down the lane at work and affect your reputation and possible advancement. Sometimes it is simply better to shut up and say nothing. In my case, I betrayed my gut. I knew even the initial response communicating that I didn’t want to engage was indeed a way of engaging, and I knew she’d welcome a chance to push my buttons. In this case, my buttons popped, but it was a conscious choice and I am content with whatever the outcome may be.

Below are a few tips on how to answer questions.
  • Keep your cool. No matter how rattled or annoyed you are by a question, it’s important to keep your composure if you hope to maintain credibility. Take a deep breath and pause before answering the question.
  • Keep it short. Keeping your answers as short and focused as possible maximizes the likelihood that your intended message is heard the same way by all.
  • Questions provide additional opportunities for you to reinforce key points, invite listeners to participate, and demonstrate your expertise.
  • Address concerns openly and honestly.
Below are a few tips on how to successfully communicate electronically.
  • Be as specific as possible so readers do not have to wade through lots of words to determine what you want. If it is necessary for the e-mail to contain a lot of information, break it up into short paragraphs or bullet points so it’s easier to read.
  • Keep it Simple. Twitter is an excellent example of how social media sites have forced people to simplify communications. Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, which is roughly 20 words, communicators must make points in succinct headlines to be understood.
  • An emotional, stream-of-consciousness post that doesn’t clearly hit key points, rambles, and is unfocused will be hard to read. Before you post or write, outline key points you want to make and examples you can share with each point so the writing is structured and easy to follow.

Karen Friedman
Praeger, 10/2010

Connect with Karen

Karen Friedman is a professional communication coach and speaker who serves as president of Karen Friedman Enterprises.


  1. The tips in this book are invaluable. I'm only through chapter one and I can't wait to read the rest of it. "Think about the outcome you seek, and program your internal GPS to take you there."

  2. This post gives me a lot to think about. Since I do most of my work via email, this tip is probably the most valuable to me:

    "Be as specific as possible so readers do not have to wade through lots of words to determine what you want. If it is necessary for the e-mail to contain a lot of information, break it up into short paragraphs or bullet points so it’s easier to read."

  3. Hi Karen,

    I appreciate your practical wisdom and solutions oriented vision. I look forward to reading your book and acquiring even more education! Thank you.

    Very truly yours,

    Kelley Osborne Faust

  4. I wish that more people used the suggestion of breaking up their email communications into easily digestible parts.

    Nothing drives me more crazy than a huge email that is all ONE paragraph. I will literally go through and break it out into paragraphs just so I can understand it properly (that may be the English teacher in me though).

  5. Thank you for such great comments, I'm glad my post was helpful. I think that often the way we speak in person actually translates to the written page. For example, if we tend to be long winded when speaking, we take a long time to share our thoughts in words. So, you can use these tips when presenting at meetings, talking to a boss or the media. For starters, think headline. What is the most important point you want to make? Try to make that point first and then back it up with two or three sub-points and examples that are relevant to your audience so you are in a better position to drive the message home. I'm sure you've heard the expression: WIIFM--what's in it for me? If people understand how information affects them and why they should care, you'll have a better chance of gaining and keeping their attention. Alot of these examples and try it this way techniques are scattered throughout the book. Remember, people don't need to know everything you know, but they do need to know how to use the information you are sharing.

  6. This book delivered informations and suggestions that could be apply to have a successful business and can be included to the paginas amarilla. Job well done, keep on sharing it.