Part of a blog series about the culture and values at BroadSoft.
Most people think communication is about what you say. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my career is that I think communication is actually more about what people hear. To be a good communicator, it’s important to put yourself in the listener’s shoes. A lot of training is about how to speak and how to write – which are important, no doubt. But little is about how to listen. That’s where our energy should be spent: understand the audience before you decide what to say.
There’s an old-time saying that my mom used to tell me: "listen twice as much as you talk!" Admittedly, I’m a talker so sometimes I don’t follow it, but they say that’s why we have two ears and one mouth.
So how can you focus more on what someone wants to hear? It’s critical to think about who your audience is. How do they like to receive information? This is especially important working with different cultures like we do. Someone from Helsinki or Oslo, for instance, if you ask a question, you’ll get a direct answer. Someone in India is going to be more verbose.
No matter who our audience is, we have a tendency at BroadSoft – and in many U.S. companies today – to spend a lot of time creating slide decks, rather than focusing on what the other party wants or needs to hear.
A group of us recently spent a lot of time preparing a slide deck for a customer. We ended up with a 150-page deck. As the meeting with the customer got underway, I could tell in about an hour by their nonverbal cues that they were not happy. So I said, “Let’s take a ten-minute break.” And I checked in with the customer on our agenda and our slides and asked them, "What do you want to come out of this meeting?" They told us exactly what they wanted, and we were able to see that we were off track and needed to re-set. We had been so fixated on presenting our stuff that we’d forgotten to ask what they wanted to hear. In the end, by asking what they wanted, we were able to get what we wanted – which was to move to the next stage of the deal.
Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to say that it’s good to ask, "Hey, what do you want? What do you want out of this exchange?"
When you do that, you can begin with the end in mind. I’m a big believer in that – it comes from my consulting background: it’s best to start with the answer. If someone asks for an update on a project, for instance, we might have 10 slides explaining how we got there and the 11th slide is the answer. Instead, the answer should come first!
We’re all so busy, no one has the attention span to read 10 pages (much less 150). In fact, I think we should produce less slideware and communicate more. When you have a meeting, use the time to talk with the other people and listen to what they have to say, with the slides as back-up. You can send the slides ahead of time and use the meeting to talk through it or go the other way and talk about what you want to talk about with the person and use the slides as a reference.
Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” It’s very hard to synthesize what you want to say into a few key points. But it forces you to crystallize your thoughts, and if you do it while thinking about your audience and what they want to hear, then your message is much more likely to come through.
Personally, I think communication is more important than anything else from a competency perspective. If you have a great idea and can’t articulate it, you may as well not have it!