• All about the humanity of communication.

    All about the humanity of communication.

From lost relationships to steep financial penalties, the price of poor communication is high

Poor communication costs business millions of dollars every single day. Most executives and managers understand this, yet they don’t realize how big a part they play in this miscommunication.

cemetary-stonesFinancial statements do not carry a line item for poor communication, although they should since, with a little effort, it can quickly be quantified.

Communication is vital to the success of your organization. To be most effective, communication must circulate and reach all levels, not just the core.

Different forms of poor communication. Here are but a few:

  • Long, unproductive, numbing meetings without a clear purpose or agenda, often reaching no conclusions, result in lost productivity as well as the collective time of everyone attending.
  • Poor documentation neglects to mention the purpose of the software or hardware and only explains how it works. Users, however, don’t care how it works; they want to know how to use it!
  • Uninspired selling skills and anemic sales presentations showing no interest or understanding of a prospect’s needs, result in missed opportunities and lost sales.

Continue reading The Costs of Poor Communication

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An ironic approach to purposeful writing.

Being a writer, I follow a fairly strict process when writing—the same process that I preach about when teaching clients how to write: Pre-writing: planning and drafting; Reviewing: rewriting and revising; and Finishing: editing, applying mechanics, and formatting.

I’ve taught this process to many people (including my children). After all, there is a very good reason: it works!

tyler-kaena-point-rainbowThe Pre-writing phase allows you to identify who you are writing for (your audience) and what you want to say to them; to identify the purpose of your writing, to determine the points you want to make and enumerate them; to begin drafting your ideas based on these points to get your thoughts on paper without restriction. This is where the bulk of your writing can take place.

The Reviewing phase enables you to clarify your draft: to embellish your words, to add more details, to tighten up your text, to clear up any ambiguities, to sequence thoughts better, to ensure your text speaks to your purpose, to delete anything that runs astray, to cut off tangents, to sharpen.

The Finishing phase is where you edit: to employ better words, to fix grammatical infractions, to correct mechanical errors, to change punctuation, to format for clarity and understanding.

Imagine my consternation, then—with a bit of a smile—when I received the following analysis of the process my son employs for writing papers (including email and IM) at university. In his own words…

Continue reading Writing 201: Analyzing the Writing Process

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True listening engages not only your ears and mind, but also your eyes and heart

An update: Solari is currently working with two clients, helping them with audience analysis, interviewing, writing, and presentation skills. It struck me — again — how much listening plays a critical part in communication. So, even though we published this position paper of listening a while ago, it bears reiterating. Enjoy.

True listening encompasses all there is about effective listening, and augments professional discourse with a human touch. Effective listening hears the words; true listening hears the person. Effective listening employs your ears and mind; true listening engages your eyes and heart. Effective listening understands the message; true listening transcends the message and gains profound insight.

still-more-floraTaken together, effective listening and true listening deeply enhance your relationships.

True listening means seeing beyond the words, engendering trust, and establishing an emotional personal connection.

See beyond the words. The nonverbal part of communication often expresses more than the actual words themselves. To truly listen, engage all your senses.

As you hear someone talk and begin to understand the concept, look for the emotion, passion, and feeling of the words to truly understand the depth of the message. Instead of just asking questions to better comprehend, recognize and articulate these emotions and feelings. Many times the person talking doesn’t even realize how emotionally involved they are.

Continue reading How to Truly Listen

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The simple answer is this: hire a professional technical communicator. And now, with the advent of the “Online Buyers Guide & Consultant Directory” published just this week by the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the process has become infinitely easier.

stc-online-buyers-guideThe Buyers Guide section lists companies that provide a specific product or service; it’s organized into several helpful sections. The Consultant Directory lists over 600 professional technical communicators, all of whom are just an email or a phone call away; many are just a Web site click away. (We are listed on page 53.)

Research has demonstrated that clear technical communication created by professionals who understand the needs of their audiences — your customers among them — return solid benefits: greater customer satisfaction, less technical support calls, increased sales, and fewer returns.

Do you want to know how a technical communicator differs from a technical writer? Go to page 7. Then go to page 9 to learn about the value that technical communication can bring your company. The return-on-investment (ROI) is clear.

The best part of all: the Directory is free! Just go to http://www.stc.org/ and click the link on STC’s home page.

–Rich Maggiani

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The quality, authenticity, and benefits of Twitter communication are at stake.

The use of Twitter has simply exploded over the past year. As your list of followers grows, so do the amount of tweets, retweets, and direct messages you receive. Most of these tweets are well intended, but how useful are they?

italian-alley-whiteAn increasing percentage of the tweets you receive are spam. Twitter is especially vulnerable, given its inherent automation. Anyone can easily follow tens of thousands of people, and then gain a large percentage of followers in return. An easy, ready market for spam from lurid “marketers”.

What does Twitter spam look like? Twitter spam can take many forms. Legitimate companies spam when they endlessly promote their products through dummy Twitter accounts. These accounts often bear no resemblance to the products they pitch. Con artists attempt to shift your money and to gain your identity through a series of shady financial transactions. You are probably wary of these: “Help me access my dead uncle’s $20 million from a backward third-world country and receive a 15% fee.” Still, a small percent click through.

Many times, spam tweets are sent by members with few followers yet following as many as possible. This should be your first tip-off when someone starts to follow you. These people send tweets with blind tiny URLs linked to those click-here-if-you-are-18-years-or-older sites — except that requirement is frequently omitted. These can easily be identified by the busty, cleavage-popping, young lady’s photo on the account.

Then there are the “See how I got 3,000 followers in one afternoon” spammers. Another come-on: “I can show you how to make $1,000,000 by tomorrow afternoon by following this simple method. No, really I can!” Hair removal treatment for women garners a good share of spam tweets. You get the idea.

Continue reading How Useful Is Your Twitter Stream?

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United Airlines broke the guitar of Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell, and he wasn’t happy. For a couple of reasons. First, while changing planes in Chicago, he and his band mates watched United’s baggage handlers throwing his guitar. And second, this was a $3,500 Taylor guitar, quite an expensive musical instrument.

And, as suspected, when Dave arrived in Nebraska, he found the guitar’s neck broken. So Dave complained and asked for compensation. Enter the airline albatross of denial, as any of you know if you’ve ever had to file a claim for damaged or lost baggage. You probably can conclude the results: claim denied. And that was the beginning of United’s nightmare…  justifiably.

A number of events occurred after that, the most caustic and influential being a song written by Dave in United’s “honor” and performed by the band.

This video already has had almost 5 million (!) viewings. Subsequently, articles about Dave’s plight appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Independent (British). That’s viral social media at work. The power is tremendous!

So what has come of all this. Well, United donated $3,000 to the Thelonius Institute, a charity that supports jazz. Then, Bob Taylor, the guitar’s maker, gave Dave two free Taylor guitars.The video and resulting publicity has put the Sons of Maxwell on the musical map. So Dave came away fairly well.

How did United fare? Apparently, not so well. Within days of this video being published together with a flurry of related articles, United”s stock dropped 10%, costing shareholders about $180 million.

Social Media: a force for the rest of us.

–Rich Maggiani

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Effective listening means you get the message clear and complete, without bias

Effective listening is one of the most challenging activities you can engage in, and yet one of the most rewarding and beneficial – both to the person talking and especially to you, the listener. You have effectively listened when you can clearly articulate what the other person has said and understand it from their point of view. How do you get there? By concentrating, putting their message first (and yours second), and considering their background, perspective, and situation.

tantalus-rocky-streamConcentrate. What you might suspect is true. Concentrating while listening is far more difficult than during any other form of communication. Why? Simply put, we think much faster than we talk.

People say, on average, about 125 words a minute. But words can speed through our mind at the rate of 1,200 a minute and often much faster. Thus, speech happens at about 10% of your mind’s capacity. When listening, it’s virtually impossible to slow your thoughts to that pace – you continue to think at high speed. What you do with that other 90% of processing power is the essence of effective listening.

Concentration increases when you engage in a few mental activities focused on what you hear. First, think ahead: where is this going; what conclusions could you draw? Second, evaluate the talker’s points: are they complete, clear, sensible, overly emotional? And third, review all that has been said and think about it in its entirety.

Continue reading How to Be an Effective Listener

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Your community controls your brand, not you. Human engagement is your best course.

With your social media goals set, measure your progress to ensure you are on the correct path. To continue with our travel analogy, after being on your journey for awhile, check your map, gauge your progress, consider a different route, a better route, or perhaps even test an intriguing path that appeals to you.

white-wall-with-plantWhat most matters are the people you meet along the way — you must engage them and influence them to believe in you, to travel with you, to support you. In other words, you want to influence this audience to embrace your brand, embrace your products and services, and ultimately become your customers.

Traditional corporate communication is dead. You cannot do this with traditional corporate speak, the whitewashed prose and polished text that you have traditionally been written for your web site, marketing materials, press releases, and other corporate communiqué. You must engage your audience, entertain them, invite them in, and ask them to participate. It’s then, and only then, that you gain a community that supports and promotes your brand, with its resulting positive effect on sales, profitability, market share, and valuation.

You no longer control your brand. You must fully realize that you are no longer in charge of your brand.

Continue reading Influence Your Community by Engaging Them

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The question is not whether you should engage in social media, but rather how to do it intelligently, effectively, and profitably by implementing our four-step plan

Engaging social media to promote your company is similar to taking a long trip in your car. You must take these four steps:

road-to-kansas1. The vehicle you are taking: one you know how to drive.

2. Where you are going: your destination or goal.

3. How you are going to get to your destination; what are the means or objectives, for attaining your goals: the roads to take.

4. Checkpoints along the way: to assess your trip and possibly to make adjustments.

One thing is certain: a long trip does not happen overnight. It simply takes time.

All of these factors about taking a long trip are true about engaging social media, except there are multiple vehicles, goals, objectives, and checkpoints. Let’s look at them individually.

1. Vehicles. When taking a long trip, it’s best to choose a reliable vehicle. In social media, there are many reliable vehicles. Chief among these are blogs (posted from your web site), microblogs (through Twitter), social networks (Facebook being the most popular), and professional networks (LinkedIn by far the largest). There are others, of course, but these vehicles represent a firm foundation for your social media efforts.

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Your character has much to do with your ability to listen and people’s willingness to talk to you

Would you like to know more about what is going on in your company; about your staff; about your prospects and clients? Then all you have to do is listen.

statue-of-libertyAh, but listening is not easy. If it were, more people would do it with verve. But it is just that difficulty that sets those who truly listen apart, and elevates them in the mind of others. People will seek you out because they know you will take the time to truly listen to them. Given that place of honor in their circle of colleagues means that you discover more information faster, are more of a confidant, and gain a deeper association with those around you.

Listening is good for business. How? People feel free to tell you what is really going on in the company, and do not feel they have to gloss over it. And it’s just this kind of in-depth truth that helps you solve problems when they are still small.

There are a number of characteristics to becoming an exceptional listener that are easily within your reach: humility, patience, respect, sincerity, and empathy. You have varying levels of these traits in your character; it just takes a bit of focus to bring them out.

Continue reading Personality Traits of an Exceptional Listener

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