Let’s Work Together

ABCs of Business Communication

Jun 11th, 2014

When I began thinking about this topic, “business communications,” my mind went first to the skills of communicating effectively in the workplace, and to some of the classic books written on the subject and programs designed to impart those skills. I thought about:

  • Getting to Yes; Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton. Written more than 30 years ago, it is considered one of the primary business texts of the modern era. It is based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, a group that deals with all levels of negotiation and conflict resolution. Getting to Yes is a straightforward method for negotiating personal and professional disputes without getting taken – and without getting angry
  • Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has helped people solve personal and professional problems using the principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity, since it was written more than 15 years ago.
  • My personal and professional favorite, Leader Effectiveness Training, was written by Thomas Gordon, way back in 1977. Since updated, Gordon’s communication and problem-solving skills aren’t ones you’re able to just turn off and leave at the office — they have a habit of insinuating themselves (and improving your relationships) when dealing with friends, spouses, and kids.

I realized, however, that the subject of “business communications” was bigger than simply skills training, and that I needed to follow the advice I typically give to start-ups. If an entrepreneur does not have a history in the industry within which the business will be located, I often suggest some early research into a trade or professional association connected to the industry. So I did some research, hoping to narrow down the topic a bit, or get some focus on this topic.

It didn’t surprise me that there was a professional association for the generic topic, “business communications.” As collectors and hobbyists know, there is a group for most everything. What did surprise me were the scope of issues and the wealth of information available with the International Association of Business Communicators. If you need a consultant, a publication, a workshop or a webinar on virtually any possible subject having to do with business communications, this is a veritable cookie jar of resources.

In the current issue of the IABC magazine, CW (Communications World) you’ll find some fascinating articles. Employees as Brand Ambassadors offers that “If an employee is disengaged, it means there is a high likelihood that they are not motivated or committed to consistently act in the best interest of the organization,” says Brand Integrity CEO Gregg Lederman. In this Q&A, get Lederman’s tips on how to help employees become your company’s best advocates.

Other engaging titles include, When a Leak Turns Your Company Inside Out; Is Manager Communication the Key to Engagement?

No, I am not a paid staff member at IABC…just sharing a site new to me which I think you also might find valuable.

My “alphabetic journey” continued as I uncovered a new author, Dan Pink. Pink writes on business management issues for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Pink is the author of five provocative books, serves on the board of directors and advisory boards of several non-profits and startup companies, and was named one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world by an organization out of the UK called Thinkers 50

Pink’s recent book is To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, which offers a fresh look at the art and science of sales. While it doesn’t sound like a book about communication skills, more like a book of selling skills, Pink clearly shows in the book that we all sell. Using a mix of social science, survey research, and rich stories, the book shows that white-collar workers now spend an enormous portion of their time persuading, influencing, and moving others.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in nine Americans works in sales. Every day more than fifteen million people earn their keep by persuading someone else to make a purchase.

But dig deeper and a startling truth emerges – yes, one in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight.

Whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest, or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.

As the book’s publishers put it, “Along the way, Pink describes the six successors to the elevator pitch, the three rules for understanding another’s perspective, the five frames that can make your message clearer and more persuasive, and much more. The result is a perceptive and practical book–one that will change how you see the world and transform what you do at work, at school, and at home.”

To Sell is Human introduces the new ABC’s:

A – Attunement

B – Buoyancy

C – Clarity

Attunement, according to Pink, is perspective-taking…the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you are in. It is the capacity to take another’s perspective, to understand their interests, and to see the world from their point of view. He says it is like “operating the dial on a radio. It is the capacity to move up and down the band as circumstances demand, locking in on what’s being transmitted, even if those signals aren’t immediately clear or obvious.” Pink goes on to say, “Everything good in life – a cool business, a great romance, a powerful social movement – begins with a conversation. Talking with each other, one to one, is human beings’ most powerful form of attunement.”

Pink describes buoyancy, knowing how to stay afloat amid the ocean of rejection, as the second essential quality of moving others. Learn how Norman Hall, prototypical Fuller Brush salesman, managed the three components of buoyancy by practicing his interrogative self-talk before engagements, monitoring his positivity ratio during and the tweaking his right explanatory style after.

The third quality necessary in moving others today, according to Pink, is clarity – the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways and to identify problems they didn’t realize they had. He says, “It is the capacity to make sense of murky situations, to curate information rather than merely access it, and to move from solving existing problems to finding hidden ones.”

Most communications programs have a module or more on problem solving. Pink says “this ability to solve problems still matters.” But today, when information is abundant and democratic rather than limited and privileged, it matters relatively less. After all, if I know precisely what my problem is – whether I’m hoping to buy a particular camera or I want to take a three-day beach vacation – I can often find the information I need to make my decision without any assistance. The services of others are far more valuable when I’m mistaken, confused, or completely clueless about my true problem. In those situations, the ability to move others hinges less on problem solving than on problem finding.”

Find an engaging description of Pink’s three qualities and a copy of a discussion guide to the ideas in his book.

Thinking back on a gift I once got makes me believe that Pink is on to something valuable, particularly his third quality, clarity. I was working as a partner in a small consulting firm, doing a variety of leadership, management, and yes, communications skills training programs. Apparently my efforts to explain to my family exactly what I did in my work could have used more clarity! My then teenage son gave me a t-shirt for my birthday that year. On the front the message read, “I’m a Management Consultant.” On the back it read, “Don’t Ask Me What That Means.”