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It’s been quite some spring in Toronto where I live. Snow in April! Rain for days! Nearly hurricane force thunderstorms! So I wasn’t surprised when my neighbours decided it was time to fix their wet, leaky basement. They’ve talked about doing it for quite some time. However, to fix the problem, the contractor had to dig out their basement, which affected the shared space between our houses. It also meant they would need to remove the specially designed stepping-stones on my walkway. All seemed to go well until the end of the job when I went to make sure that the stepping-stones were back in the right place. The contractor, noticing me checking the walkway, came over to tell me that, “by the way,” he’d moved my downspout. He placed the end section in a different location so the water wouldn’t run into my neighbours’ part of the shared space.

Being told this was a little like having a passer by mention he’d repainted part of my house because he preferred a different colour. (Not to mention it implied that my downspout was the cause of my neighbor’s problem, which it wasn’t.) I was astonished and somewhat dismayed that he would change something on the exterior of my house without first asking for my consent — he wasn’t working for me, after all. And then, to add insult to injury, he went on to “mansplain” how moving the downspout was in my own best interest. And now, I even had a new downpipe, for which he’d give me a bargain, charging me a mere $50.

At this point I had to “womansplain” a few things to him! That A), he hadn’t consulted me and B), I wasn’t going to pay him for anything I hadn’t asked for, and C), my neighbours and I are on great terms, and I would discuss it with them.

The wrongheaded way he went about doing business completely got my back up. On the other hand, his behaviour was so over-the-top that it occurred to me it was a perfect example of how not to sell your services. (Rest assured I did not hand him fifty dollars.) And it inspired me to create the following checklist.

How Not to Sell Your Services, in Three Easy Steps

1.) Build Bad Relationships:
You’ve probably heard that good business relationships are built on making a human connection first. Forget about that! It’s too much hassle. Besides, building bad business relationships is much easier to do. Begin by making sure you know nothing about your client. Why bother? Who needs to waste that kind of time?

2.) Ignore Customer Needs:
Don’t look for solutions for your customer’s needs, even if the person insists on telling you what her/his needs are. Instead, look for answers to your own problems. Then, tell the customer that you know what’s best for her/him (which, coincidentally, helps you with one of your problems). If necessary, bulldoze the customer into doing what you want.

3.) Win Arguments (or Die Trying):
Make sure to have rigid policies in place that you will not back down on. Always over-promise and under-perform. Then, refer to the rigid policy that backs up your under-performance. If required, use negative instead of positive language to try and intimidate. When it doubt, rely on apathy and/or simply stop answering emails or phone calls.

 Of course, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to how not to sell your services. If you’d like to find out more ways to offend clients, refer to my previous blog posts:
1.) How Not to Communicate in Business: Five Ways to Offend Your Clients

2.) The Ripple Effect of Bad Customer/Client Service

3.) Communication Breakdown: You’re Fired 

In all seriousness though, what is to be hoped for in any business relationship is the exact opposite behaviour suggested by my tongue-in-cheek three point checklist. What you really want to strive for is to understand your clients, meet their needs, and have honest, respectful communication. So, my final piece of advice is that if you really want to sell your services make sure to ignore the advice in my “How Not to Sell Your Services” three-point plan!

For more tips on how to make a negative business situation positive, click here to read The Language Lab’s latest Biz Tips on How to Deliver Bad News.

And if you need help with your business relationships? Contact me at The Language Lab

The post Bad Business Communication: How Not To Sell Your Services appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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I must admit I find it a challenge — “it” being the goal of getting someone I don’t already have a business relationship with to respond to an email. Part of my business — and of many businesses — is seeking new clients. Sometimes that means I’m following up on a referral; sometimes I’m sending a “cold” email. Either way, it can be daunting to figure out what I can say to grab a stranger’s attention.

Not that this should come as a big surprise. People are inundated by email and find it difficult to keep up with messages sent from people they know, let alone total strangers. According to the Radicati Group, by 2021 an estimated 319.6 billion business and consumer emails will be sent and received each day. Yes, billion. (I know I already have some days when I feel like I send and receive about a billion emails myself!)

So, how can you cut through the volume and make yourself heard? It’s not easy. But I’ve found through trial and error, that there is a strategy that helps. I think of it is the “what,” “why,” and “how” approach. If you’re emailing someone hoping to attract his or her attention, I suggest you consider the following approach:

What must your email include?
1. Who you are: identify yourself as concisely as possible
2. What you have to offer: make it clear what your business is all about

Why should the recipient care?
1. Demonstrate you can provide something your email recipient needs
2. Explain how you can improve that person’s business
3. Show how you can solve a problem that person may be facing
Note: The above three steps all require doing some research, usually easily accomplished online.

How can you write an email that grabs attention?
1. Make your subject line distinctive
2. Write a strong first sentence
3. Keep all your sentences short
4. Choose persuasive, powerful, precise words
5. End with a call to action. (For example, suggest some follow up phone call times, asking if the recipient can let you know if any of those times will work at their end.)

Personally, I would always rather talk with someone about the courses The Language Lab offers rather than send an email. It’s much easier to help a prospective client understand how my business can facilitate effective communication through a conversation. But the reality is, emails are the preferred starting point for most busy business people.  Of course, on a positive note the fact is that sometimes your email will be successful. If you follow the what/why/how approach you may just find the person you are emailing is no longer a “challenge” to connect with, or a complete stranger, but in fact someone with whom you have a new business relationship.

The post How To Write an Email that Grabs Attention appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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Something I never expected to happen to me: I was fired! No, not as an employee, as I run my own company, but as a client. In truth, being “fired” was not unwelcome news. While the service provider, who fired me, had done some good work for my company, much of it was not of very good quality. In fact, I was planning to sever this business relationship myself, but had not yet done so. What was annoying about the “firing” was the way it happened: by email, without any warning. The project manager I was working with didn’t make a single attempt to have an actual conversation with me, she merely sent me an email terminating the relationship.

The email was a surprise, but it was also unintentionally humorous. Apparently the reason for terminating me as a client was because I “set the bar for professional communication high.” In other words, I demanded that the written work the provider was doing for me use correct grammar, spelling, and so on. Apparently, it was a struggle for the provider to comply. The project manager also noted, in her email, that she appreciated all she had learned from me and would use the knowledge throughout her career. To cap it off, she then sent me an invitation to connect on LinkedIn!

I had to laugh. At the same time, I also had to question why anyone would conduct business this way. So, rather than simply respond by email, I called the project manager and told her it would have been more professional to have a conversation before terminating our business relationship. Again, somewhat to my amusement, she completely agreed.

Yes, this experience of being fired was a bit mind-boggling! But on a more serious note, the experience did make me think about the right — and wrong — ways to communicate what may be perceived as “bad news” in a business transaction. Good communication, before delivering bad news, is key. As Jennifer Faulkner writes in a blog post called “When to Fire a Client and How to Do It Right,” sometimes “firing” is actually not even the answer, it may be more a case of needing to better manage your client’s expectations. She also notes that, “perhaps you just need to sit down and talk face-to-face with the client to see if things can improve.”

Two Key Ways To Be Professional

In my opinion, if you do decide that you’re going to fire someone, whether it’s as a client, as an employee, or as a service provider, you need to be professional about it. And it isn’t all that difficult. Really, it comes down to taking two key steps:

1. Provide Advanced Notice
It’s important to have a face-to-face meeting or phone conversation before ending any business relationship. Using email or texting instead is simply hiding behind a computer. And it’s disrespectful.

2. Provide Specifics:
It’s not enough to merely say, “It isn’t a good fit.” Professionalism means being honest about problems. Vague language is a way of avoiding telling the truth. Neither party benefits and learns from a dishonest exchange.

Frankly, it’s true that my relationship with this service provider was deteriorating. It’s also true I did set high standards in terms of the work they did for me. After all, given that my business is all about teaching people to write and present well, any products I use must reflect the proper use of language.

But it’s also true that it would have been a much better ending to that relationship had the project manager called me up to discuss the issues and share her perspective. That way, we both could have moved on feeling that we understood our differences, and benefited from an honest exchange — no firing required!

 Do you need help improving your business communications? Contact me at The Language Lab

The post Communication Breakdown: You’re Fired! appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) conjures up thoughts of robots taking over, automation, logic, and a lack of emotion.  Although AI initially appears to be about making machines intelligent, it also enables us to learn more about what it means to be human.  Strange as it may seem, AI can help us be more human, especially in our online communication.

We humans are amazing at face-to-face communication.  Our Emotional Intelligence (EI) helps us pick up on the many clues which help us understand how our message is being interpreted by the recipient: we see their body language, facial expressions, and hear the tone of their voice.  Face-to-face, we can deal with any miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Online communication, such as email and text messaging, is missing these clues and brings additional challenges because of the Online Disinhibition Effect [1].  This means we can come across as showing a lack of empathy towards the recipient of our message.  We cannot immediately see the effect of our messages, so adjusting their tone and meaning can be slow and cumbersome and result in lengthy and increasingly difficult exchanges.  We have all been confused and frustrated by others’ messages, yet we rarely stop to think if we are frustrating them with our messages.

We tend to think that the meaning and tone of the message in our head is accurately represented in text.  After all, it makes sense to us and we usually don’t think about whether it will make sense to the recipient.  We simply want to type and hit that send button as quickly as possible and move onto our next task.  We lose our Emotional Intelligence too easily online.

This is where AI can help us.  Although AI does not yet understand the meaning of our conversations, it can analyse key components of them and reflect that analysis back to us in real-time.  AI can act like a trusted friend or colleague, scanning our words and encouraging us to make changes to ensure our message is not misinterpreted.  Just like that trusted friend, it can see things that we have overlooked: perhaps your tone is too negative, or you want to be assertive but come across as aggressive.

We are already using spelling and grammar checkers, so let’s have AI check the sentiment of our words and check how our message could be misunderstood.  AI can build models of how we use language to communicate and how people might react to our written messages.  By scanning our text using Natural Language Processing, and comparing with communication models, AI can make predictions about how someone may interpret, or misinterpret, your message.  Using AI to help us increase EI in our online communication is a great use of technology.  It helps us reflect on what we write and learn to communicate better.

References
1 – Suler, John (June 2004). “The Online Disinhibition Effect”. CyberPsychology & Behavior. 7: 321–326. doi:10.1089/1094931041291295

“Dr. Chris McKillop is CEO of ‘Turalt – the technology of empathy’  She believes empathy is at the heart of our communication, and that technology can help us learn to communicate more effectively by improving our digital emotional intelligence.  Chris has a background in AI and learning and is passionate about how AI and empathy can help improve people’s lives.”

The post Artificial Intelligence: can AI help us communicate better online? appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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One of the most challenging presentations I can imagine doing is a TED Talk. Because I’m always looking for new challenges, I’ve decided to do my own TED Talk, one that’s focused on how to achieve goals.

TED Talks set the bar very high. The list of notable speakers is daunting: President Bill Clinton, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, primatologist Jane Goodall, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and so on and so on. TED speakers are often the kind of people who win the big awards — Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars etc. Or they’re emerging artists, scientists, and thinkers who one day will win an award.

Still, I believe I have something to offer. And I do have plenty of experience speaking in front of people, as both an educator and a business coach. But I want my TED Talk to be the talk of my life! So when I decided this was my goal, I knew that I couldn’t rely on past experience alone. To be at the top of my game I needed some external input: an executive speech coach.

Choosing to work with a coach has been one of the best professional decisions I’ve ever made. I admit the first session wasn’t easy though. I quickly realized that it’s one thing to speak to an audience. It’s another to be under the microscope of an expert I’d never met, knowing she was analyzing my every move, expression, and word!

As exhausting and stressful as that first session turned out to be, it also gave me a glimpse of how working with a great coach could significantly improve my business communication. It’s the reason I’ve gone back to work with her and will continue to do so. Ultimately, I want to become the best possible presenter I can be, one capable of getting an audience on its feet.

If you’re in business, I’m sure you too would like to be the best possible communicator you can be. That’s why today I’d like to share some of the ways in which a good coach can help you improve your business communications.

Five Ways a Good Coach Can Help You

1.New Tools
It’s easy to simply rely on skills you’ve already honed. But a good coach can teach you new skills and introduce you to skills you may not even realize you need.

2. Confidence Boost
Sometimes we can become overly self-critical. Any coach worth his or her salt will be on your side, rooting for you to succeed. That’s a huge confidence boost, which can go a long way to making you do your best work.

3. Good Eye
A good coach has a good eye. She (or he) sees your strengths and your weaknesses. What’s more, she (or he) helps you to see those strengths and weaknesses too.

4. Role Model
In your own work you may be in the position of needing to give feedback. A good coach is a wonderful model of how to give positive, constructive feedback.

5. Truth Telling
My coach doesn’t let me off the hook, and I appreciate that! She keeps me honest and holds me accountable.

In case you’re not exactly sure what I mean in point five, above, let me explain. My coach noted some habits I have when presenting that were not helping my audiences to connect with me. For example, I had a habit of saying “so” (the way some people say “um”) too much. Sometimes I’d rush from one sentence to another, barely stopping to take a breath. She pointed out how it might confuse people because they’d have a hard time distinguishing one idea from the next. She showed me how to breathe at the ends of sentences, to allow for that space “where a penny could drop.” She also helped me to bring a smile to my face and my voice, which really makes a difference to how my words are received. And, let me tell you, if I don’t do those things in my mock presentations for her now, she’ll call me on it.

If you’re considering getting a coach, I’d also suggest looking at a Forbes article called Three Qualities To Look For In A Great Executive Coach. Among other things, it points out that, because a coach is outside looking in she can see what you cannot. She observes, gathers information, and starts to find solutions to problems. In other words, a good coach really can help you to expand your viewpoint and get out of your habitual ways of seeing things. Or, as an article at the Competitive Edge points out, a great coach is really a great life teacher. And, let’s face it, at any stage of our careers or lives we can all benefit from someone who helps us to open our eyes.

So, am I ready to do that TED Talk yet? Not quite, but I’m confident I’m getting there.

Do you need help with your presentation skills? Contact me at The Language Lab.

The post Five Ways a Good Coach Can Improve Your Business Communication appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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I recently saw an article with this eye-catching headline: “How the evolution of the English language went bigly.” It was that word, “bigly,” that immediately made me think of some of the many odd ways that U.S. president, Donald Trump, uses the English language. But the point of the article, written by noted Canadian journalist, Robert Fulford, isn’t about Trump declaring himself a “stable genius” or repeatedly calling people “losers.” It’s really about how the English language is always evolving.

Take the word “woke,” for example. These days if someone says, “woke,” there’s a good chance they aren’t talking about just getting out of bed, in the morning. Instead, it’s quite likely the word is being used to indicate an awareness of racial or social discrimination. This meaning of “woke” has spread in part through its association with the Black Lives Matter movement. And, in some people’s views, non-black people using the word to signal self-awareness has the opposite effect. If anything, it makes that person look less aware, not “woke” at all.

The aforementioned is a good example of why you need to keep in mind that the words you choose, when writing or making a presentation, can be culturally charged. Keep in mind that every audience has a certain knowledge and background, or backgrounds. And if you, as a businessperson, want to make a positive impression on your audience, you really need to think about what kind of language and words will resonate with them. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your message lost or worse still, backfiring on you.

                                   The right words literally move people to action

On the other hand, choose the right words and you’ll have an astonishingly, positive impact. Take a look at this stirring video, “The Power of Words”, that illustrates my point, beautifully. See how the right words literally move people to take action. These words, as you will see, are simple, but perfectly chosen.

To be sure that the words you choose in business writing work for rather than against you, consider the following two points. You’ll have a much better chance of making your words matter, if you do.

1.Put Your Audience First
Ask yourself: What kinds of words are most likely to resonate with your audience? For example, are you speaking to people whose first language is not English? If so, be careful about using slang or jargon. Even phrases, commonly used in business, such as “on the same page” or “reach out to you” might confuse.

2. Seek Clarity
Your words need to capture the essence of what it is you want to communicate. If, for example, you are creating a “call to action,” where you are asking someone to literally take action, your instructions must be completely clear.

It’s not necessarily easy to achieve clarity and to persuade with words. But the more you focus on choosing the right words, the more natural it will become. Think of it this way: There’s a reason that professional writers have editors! In business, you frequently have to be both the writer and the editor, creating first; then carefully reviewing what you’ve written.

Over the past few years, I’ve written a number of blog posts about how to make your words matter. It’s such an important communications topic in the business world. To explore this important subject further, take a look at any or all of the following posts:

Words truly are a reflection of our thoughts, ideas, and values. We’ve all seen the way in which poorly chosen words can create conflict and frustration. Proof of that, sadly, lies in the regular tweets and comments from a certain “stable genius.” However, I’d rather focus on the positive results that a well-chosen word can have in daily life and in business. And I’d be happy to help you do the same through the programs offered at The Language Lab.

Need help choosing the best words for your business communications? Contact me at The Language Lab.

The post In Business Writing and Presenting Your Words Matter appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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I love visiting New York. And I especially love trying new boutique hotels in different areas of the city. I get to discover more about this amazing city while adding to the excitement of my stay. The hotel I recently chose looked great online, (at an equally great price). The phone conversation I had with the front desk clerk before hand reinforced that positive feeling. “Was there anything special I’d like that would help to make sure I had a terrific stay,” he asked? “Anything at all?” I made one small request; then hung up the phone feeling like I’d really lucked out.

The clerk did alert me that the restaurant wasn’t open yet (which no doubt accounted in part for the great price). So the first morning of my stay I figured I could just make coffee in my room. Except, there was one problem: no coffee maker! Oh well, I thought, I’ll just get some boiling water and make tea. One more problem: the hotel could not provide boiling water! It seemed absurd. This lovely boutique hotel was unable to even make a cup of tea for one of its guests. The whole experience reminded me of the expression “caveat emptor,” which means “buyer beware.” It puts ultimate responsibility on the buyer of a product (or a service) rather than the seller of that product or service.

Of course, it’s one thing when caveat emptor means you can’t have your morning caffeine hit. It’s a very different thing when your business suffers because you didn’t think to ask all the right questions — or get details of a business agreement in writing. I’ve had this kind of misunderstanding happen a number of times, typically with providers of Internet and social media-related services, where there is little standardization. Yet, many people claim to know what’s best for my business. I’ve had tasks that a service provider promised to accomplish, go uncompleted. And supposedly professionally written materials, that ended up requiring hours of my editing time. But now, having had experiences of this sort too often, I’m determined to follow these two key guidelines when embarking on any new business relationships in the future:

1. Never Assume
As Jim Heininger says, when it comes to business “never assume, and always confirm.” Ask every question you have in order to gather all the information you can. A candid conversation has a better chance of ensuring that both parties have a clear understanding of the agreement.

2. Never Shake On It
Make sure if you do enter into an agreement that it is in writing, not just a “handshake deal.” You need to have a written agreement. So if down the line, things do not go according to plan, you have something concrete to which you can refer back.

The reality is that any new client/service provider relationship has the potential to go from “perfect” to decidedly imperfect. Just as with the beginning of a romance, when people often don’t take notice of their new partner’s potential flaws, a new business relationship may also have a honeymoon period. Until, naturally, those flaws become too difficult to ignore. But the fact is, the flaws were actually there all along. Although you may not be able to expect a potential love interest to provide you with a detailed summary of what you will get out of the relationship, you can, and should, require that of a service provider.

I think most of us instinctually want to think the best of others. And we want to trust when prospective service providers are friendly and professional, everything will work out just fine. But in business you just can’t leave any stone unturned. You always need to remember “caveat emptor.” It’s true that even with a written agreement you may not cover every single eventuality. But it certainly will formalize expectations, and leave less room for misunderstanding. Who knows? Had I asked the right questions of my New York hotel clerk, I probably would have ended up staying someplace where I could get a cup of coffee, first thing in the day — really not such a difficult thing to accomplish.

Do you need writing coaching or help with a business writing course to create business agreements? Contact me at The Language Lab

 

The post Buyer Beware: In Business Ask Before You Buy appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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Nothing irks me more than when I send someone an email (or two, or ten) and I don’t hear back. I had this experience recently when I contacted an employee at the City of Toronto about a problem on my street. The response? Silence. Not even an “out of office” message, which would have at least explained why he didn’t respond.

Eventually we did connect, but let’s just say I was not impressed. This person’s attitude towards responding to emails was that somehow they didn’t count as real communication — or lack thereof. But just because email is a quick way to communicate (or can languish in one’s inbox for days) doesn’t mean it can’t have a negative impact on lives and careers. We’ve all seen the way powerful public figures can be negatively affected by their email communications. (Think: Hilary Clinton, Martha Stewart et al.)

It’s also not a new phenomenon. Virginia Heffernan wrote about it in an opinion piece for the New York Times in 2011. She noted that the concerns created by disclosing potentially damning information by email even led to a new acronym, LDL, which stands for “let’s discuss live.” “LDL” means that the person receiving the email has no intention of leaving an email trail of their thoughts that could later be used against her or him. And yet, to this day people still can’t seem to avoid the pitfalls of email. It’s because, like it or not, email has become the primary form of daily business communication. So if you want to make sure your email communications stay on a positive track, you really have to watch for the following three pitfalls.

Three Pitfalls of Email Communication

1. The “Send First, Think Later” Approach
The tendency, to quickly write and click “send,” means that emails are frequently poorly composed. And this can backfire in numerous ways. The recipient may be offended by what he or she perceives as an inappropriate tone. Spelling or grammatical errors may create the impression that the sender does shoddy work — or just isn’t all that smart.

2. The “Devil in the Details ”
It’s not easy to convey complex ideas or thoughts in writing. It requires nuanced wording. It requires being precise, not vague. Vague wording — common to emails — may leave the recipient frustrated or confused. It may lead to a flurry of subsequent emails seeking clarification. Even a simple idea poorly conveyed by email can cause that result. For example, have a look at this email exchange between two people I’ll call Joe and Josephine:

Joe: It’s OK, I worked it out.

Josephine: What did you work out?

Joe: The thing we emailed about this morning.

Josephine: Which thing? We emailed about a few things.

Joe: Don’t worry about it. We’re good.

Josephine: Now I am worried. Can we talk tomorrow?

Joe: You mean on the phone?

Josephine: Yes, on the phone. Noon?

Joe: Eastern or Pacific?

That’s nine emails, when one or two probably would have sufficed, had the first email contained all of the information, clearly expressed.

3. The “Reply All” Nightmare
Anyone who has ever been copied on multiple emails is familiar with this pitfall. Sure, you can simply delete emails that you are copied on that don’t actually concern you. But first you have to glance at them to make sure that they aren’t, in fact, something that could be significant. Another option people sometimes take can cause more problems. He or she will write a snippy email asking not to be included in the “reply all,” which leads to still more emails being received by everyone on the list.

So, how can you avoid the above email pitfalls? It’s really not that difficult. But, it does mean being attentive and taking a little more time with your email communications. Here are my five favourite tips:

  • Think first; send later.
  • Consider your recipient, and tailor your tone accordingly.
  • Choose words carefully to make sure you are saying what you intend to say.
  • Re-read and edit before hitting “send.”
  • Use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Oh, and one more thing. When someone emails you? Make sure you answer. Perhaps, you can’t respond to the email within minutes. However, you can respond as soon as you’re able. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating the sender. And that sender might just be someone you’ll want on your side one day. It might, for example, be that person with whom you hope to do business. Or, maybe it’s a citizen who chose to blog about your poor attitude when it comes to a timely professional response!

Need help with your business email communications? We’ll teach you how to avoid the pitfalls and achieve the optimal response. Contact me at The Language Lab.

The post It’s More Than “Just” An Email: The Pitfalls of Email Communication appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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Tom Price, now the former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Service, spent nearly $52,000 of taxpayers’ money flying on private charter planes. And he got caught! His boss, President Donald Trump, said that he didn’t like “the optics” of Price’s actions, “cosmetically or otherwise.” As a result, Price resigned. I’m guessing that Trump thought that the “optics” of Price’s departure appearing as a resignation, rather than a termination, would reflect better on Trump’s administration.

This regrettable story is one that comes to mind when I coach clients about business communications. It so clearly underscores how important public perception really is. The way others perceive our actions has a great deal to do with whether or not we are considered trustworthy.

Interestingly, the true definition of “optics” is the scientific study of light and vision. But “optics” as a buzzword, as the MacMillan Dictionary points out, has come to define “the way a situation looks” to the public. While hopefully your choice to be ethical, whether in politics or business, is genuine, in the business world how others perceive you absolutely matters. What you communicate and how you communicate, i.e. your words will determine your success.

This has never been truer than in the 21st century where information travels practically at the speed of light (speaking of optics), thanks to the Internet and social media. Your ideas, your concepts, and the words you choose to present them will be scrutinized. It’s the reason I always suggest that the first step in creating business communications of any kind is to consider what your potential clients want. You have to think about how you can serve your clients’ needs first, not how they can help you to pay your bills! So, think about the following principles when creating a new business communication, whether it’s a presentation or a “cold call” email.

1.Know your prospect or your client

Before you can craft a business communication make sure you know the basics of the other person’s business. If necessary, spend a little time in research online. Gaining an understanding of someone you intend to do business with is an essential (and respectful) first step.

2. Focus on the “you” rather than the “me”

Put the client first, literally. For example, rather than beginning an email by saying, “I’m writing to…” start your email by asking “Are you interested in…”. Language is nuanced, and the second approach subtly indicates that you are interested in what the client is interested, first and foremost.

3. Offer value to your client

In many instances in the business world, one of the key values is how you can help someone else to achieve their goals. If you share information that’s relevant to a client you have a much better chance of landing your prospect’s business. At the very least, you have shown yourself to be someone whose contacts should be kept on file, rather than sent to the trash folder!

Of course, it goes without saying that your message needs to be well constructed and well executed. As I pointed out in an earlier post, It’s Not About You, you need to provide information your audience is interested in receiving. As well, you need to do it using an appropriate tone. If you pay attention to these tips you will avoid the pitfall of appearing to only be concerned with what you hope to gain. Indeed, had Mr. Price thought a little bit harder about what his audience (the American public) wanted, expected, and needed from him, chances are he’d still have a job.

Do you need help with your business optics? Contact me at The Language Lab and I’ll make sure you achieve your goal.

The post Business Optics: Why You Should Put Your Audience First appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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Are technical skills more important than soft skills today for employees’ success in the work force? Personal experience suggests that many employers value technical/hard skills more than the soft skills. They are more willing to spend money to develop the former than the latter. For many, the soft skills will look after themselves.

Case in point: I was recently hired as part of a pilot project to improve a group of tech employees’ “soft skills.” One person, in particular, the client wanted me to work with was a talented tech person, who regularly experienced difficulty with his presentations. Most of the time his audience couldn’t understand the details of the applications he was developing for their use. He used so much technical jargon when presenting his ideas that they couldn’t follow him.

At first, he was resistant to the idea that he needed help. He told me that his immediate colleagues understood what he was trying to say, so what was the problem? It took awhile until he realized that he was the problem, or at least, his communication skills were. He began to show progress, albeit slow, annunciating his words more clearly. He also started to translate technical jargon into language his stakeholders could understand. And his presentation slides became easier to follow.

Unfortunately, after making excellent progress and achieving much success with him and the others in the group, the company pulled the plug on the pilot project. An influential senior manager convinced the rest of the management team that employees should pay for their own soft skills training. Yet, the company would still finance technical skills development. Definitely a shortsighted decision! Yet, not a surprising one. Diminishing the importance of soft skills is sadly, not uncommon.

What all organizations (particularly those in tech field, where the development of AI is leading to fewer jobs) need to recognize is that the demand for good soft skills is growing. And soft skills, such as the following, are key communication skills.

  • Communicating ideas
  • Problem solving
  • Team building
  • Taking responsibility
  • Being decisive
  • Conflict resolution
  • Negotiation skills

Why wouldn’t any employer want their employees to improve skills such as these? Possibly, part of the answer lies in the name itself: “soft skills.” After all, “soft” can be equated with weakness. But as Scott Stirrett, Executive Director of Venture for Canada points out in a Globe and Mail article, it’s human skills that we need most in today’s workforce. Human skills, such as thinking critically are absolutely essential, as the potential for automation replacing many jobs is becoming a reality today. Stirrett references entrepreneur, Seth Godin, who prefers the term “human skills” to soft skills, viewing it as a kind of “umbrella” term that can be further broken down into the following categories:

  • Self control
  • Productivity
  • Wisdom
  • Perception
  • Influence

I can’t imagine any employer or employee not wanting to improve their human skills, given the opportunity. A 2016, Business Council of Canada survey backs up this view. The Council notes that Canadian firms do not face “a comprehensive skills shortage.” Hiring managers surveyed said that the most in-demand skills are now the so-called soft skills. I truly believe that companies and government, particularly when it comes to working with employees in the technical fields, need to rethink what kind of professional development employees most need. Because, without appropriate business communication skills, employees will be left behind. And that benefits no one!

Do you need help improving soft skills? Contact me at The Language Lab.

The post Effective Communication: The Power of Soft Skills appeared first on The Language Lab - Toronto.

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