--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.
Shut Up and Say Something: Business Communication Strategies to Overcome Challenges and Influence Listeners
Karen FriedmanPraeger, 10/2010
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Karen Friedman is a professional communication coach and speaker who serves as president of Karen Friedman Enterprises.