Some of the departments here at Hodges-Mace have recently gone through an on-site training session, provided by SkillPath, which centered on professional communication in the workplace. The purpose of the course material we used was to give us some additional tools and practical concepts to help in our interactions with internal and external customers. In other words, it was about learning what to say, what not to say, how to say it, and when to say it. In other other words, it was about communicating with honesty and respect towards everyone in your professional circle. It is easy for a business to damage their customer service image and, thus, their overall brand image, by not effectively training and maintaining the communication skills of their frontline representatives and their behind-the-scenes people. With that said, here are a few salient tips from our training:
1. Maintain a professional mental attitude.
A few centuries ago, an Irish bishop named George Berkeley coined the Latin phrase esse est percipi (aut percipere), which translates as “to be is to be perceived (or to perceive).” I won’t bore you with the itinerant philosophical musings, but what this means is that, generally, our experience of reality is contingent upon our perceptions. For example, if we perceive vegetables to be bad then that will shape our experiences with them. This is also true of the way we view people and while you have no control over how someone perceives you, you definitely can have a positive influence on their perceptions. Establishing and maintaining a professional mental attitude is paramount for creating excellent communication experiences for everyone you interact with. How do you establish this attitude?
First, you have to start viewing everyone as a customer (including your co-workers). These are relationships you want to keep and grow, especially the internal ones as they are people you collaborate with on a regular basis. This mindset helps foster a culture of accountability and responsibility, two key ingredients for good customer service. A business that doesn’t treat its customers properly is a business that will find itself running out of customers to treat. Secondly, you have to gain and maintain credibility. Remember, you are working within their perceptions and if they don’t think of you as someone they can trust, someone who cares, someone who is committed, someone who has character, then even your best work won’t seem good enough to them. Effective professional communication is what establishes and shapes how others perceive you and your work. The “golden rule” is still just as applicable as ever: treat your customers the way you would want to be treated if your situations were reversed.
2. Build healthy rapport.
This one seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But what does it really mean to build healthy rapport? How does one go about forging a relationship in a business context so that it feels genuine and not contrived? The central tool here is that you have to listen to what the customer says. And I don’t mean simply comprehending the words they are using, rather I mean understanding the context of the situation they perceive themselves to be in and understanding what they want and/or need you to do about it. This is sometimes referred to as “active listening”, which is just a succinct way to say “pay attention to the person talking to you.” Listening is not a passive activity and you will be hard-pressed to build quality relationships, with co-workers and customers alike, if you can’t implement this tactic and show that you’ve implemented it.
What if your communications don’t take place face-to-face, or ear-to-ear, as the case may be? The written equivalent of active listening is a multiple perspective approach in order to get beyond your own biases and contextualized involvement. Have a couple of your co-workers review the conversation and your proposed response. They bring a new pair of eyes which may lead to a solution you might not have discovered on your own. While it’s true that the actual words used play a comparatively small part in face-to-face and telephone communications, they are practically the only component of written communications. And even the best writers need the services of a good editor or two; the words you use and even the order they are used in can impact the “tone” and “feel” of a written message.
Remember, the defining characteristic of this relationship is how the other party perceives you and your actions within the context of their inquiry. The ability to listen and respond built on top of a positive mental attitude can obtain the trust that is necessary for awesome customer experiences.
3. Manage your stress.
Managing your stress in a business environment is critical. Not only does stress affect your interactions with others, both outside and inside your organization, but it also affects your productivity and can spill into your personal life as well. Believe it or not, managing your stress can be as simple as making sure you have a drink nearby. No, I don’t mean one of those drinks (though such drinks may have their place as stress relievers), I mean some good ole fashioned water. Research has shown that being dehydrated, whether mildly or wildly, can give rise to stress in the body and, thus, negatively affect your daily activities in the office and at home.
Here’s a quick list of how stress can affect you, provided by our friends at the Mayo Clinic:
- Muscle tension or pain
- Upset stomach
- Sleep problems
- Lack of focus/motivation
- Irritability and/or anger
- Sadness and/or depression
- Overeating or undereating
- Substance abuse (drugs/alcohol)
- Social withdrawal
There is nothing good about this list in general, but it is especially bad as a list of potential influences on how you communicate with other people. The key takeaway here is that you need to know what your personal stress triggers are and how to effectively deal with them before they find their way into your professional or personal circles.
I hope I’ve been able to underscore the importance of creating and maintaining quality communication habits. Making sure that you, the people who work with you, and the people who work for you possess strong, positive communication skills needs to be high up on your list if you want to ensure your longevity, as a business and as an individual worker, in the benefits industry. But even beyond that, these are the types of habits that can help you foster new and lasting friendships outside the work environment as well as improve and strengthen the relationships you already have.
Communication is essential to the success of any organization. Download our eBook, 6 Tips for Improving Employee Communication, to learn more.