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Maximise your important business conversations


FIONA COHN

MAXIMISE YOUR
IMPORTANT BUSINESS
CONVERSATIONS
ACHIEVE A POSITIVE AND
PRODUCTIVE RESULT IN
ANY CONVERSATION

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Maximise your important business conversations:
Achieve a positive and productive result in any conversation
1st edition
© 2016 Fiona Cohn & bookboon.com
ISBN 978-87-403-1556-1

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

CONTENTS

CONTENTS
About the Author

6

Section 1

11

1

It’s more complicated than you think – common myths

12

1.1

Giving information is communicating

12

1.2

Communication is two way

12

1.3

What you say is the most important element of communication

13



1.4

It’s obvious what you mean when you communicate

14

1.5

Communicating effectively takes too long

15

1.6

You don’t need to plan your communication

15

1.7

Stories are for children

15

1.8

Big words make you look clever

16

2

The key components and basic principles of communication

17

2.1

Verbal and Non Verbal Communication

17

2.2

Choose your Channels wisely

25

2.3

Speaking and Listening

27

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BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

CONTENTS

3

Communication breakdowns

30

3.1

Test understanding

30

3.2

Lack of consistency

31

3.3

When Words and Behaviour don’t match

31

3.4

Having a preconceived idea

32

3.5

Lack of Trust

33

3.6

The consequences of communication break-down

33

Section 2 Putting Communication Theory into Practice

36

4

Conducting productive appraisals

37

4.1

Frequency

37

4.2

Responsibility

38

4.3

Preparation

38

4.4

How not to do it

40

4.5

Intent

41

4.6

Physical surroundings

42

4.7

Focus

42

4.8

What are you noticing?

43

4.9

Questioning

43

5

Giving and receiving Feedback

45

5.1

Feedback is a gift

45

5.2

Golden Rules of Feedback

49

6

Making Change Work

55

6.1

Why change fails

55

6.2

The Change Curve

56

6.3

Principles of change communication

56

7

Delegating to get great results

65

7.1

Delegating versus Dumping/Abdicating

65

7.2

Understanding preferred management style

66

7.3

Basic principles of delegating

67

Section 3 Conclusion

73

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fiona’s background is in media, marketing communications and management and she
brings a wealth of experience gained in a variety of business sectors. She has sound
commercial acumen and experience of supporting businesses to grow their market
share and proits. She works with business owners, executives and teams, improving
eiciency and productivity and saving them time, and their businesses money…by doing
things diferently.

After a 15-year career in the competitive world of sports broadcasting, marketing, PR
and sponsorship, she moved into business development and consultancy, in industries
as diverse as insurance, distilling, international courier services and sport. Using her
marketing skills, she built and enhanced clients’ brands to increase market share. She
has also managed major accounts in IT and Telecommunications businesses to increase
proitability and provide communications expertise.
A frustration with the way businesses communicated with their staf, led her to specialise
in corporate and internal communications. She has run successful communication
activities for a range of business transformation, consultation, organisational change and
employee engagement projects. She has experience of embedding change, making it work
for staf and the organisation; and coaching and mentoring staf through the process.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Passionate about efective communication and employee engagement, often overlooked
by businesses, but fundamental to business success, she has worked with organisations
to improve management/staf relationships through better engagement. his has resulted
in more commitment and productivity from staf, improved customer service, retention
and inancial performance. She has also been responsible for ensuring the success of a
variety of change initiatives including organisational and people change, IT and systems,
business transformation and client transfers.
She has a natural coaching style, and even before qualifying as a coach, she successfully
coached and mentored staf in the workplace for many years. Her coaching qualiication
gave her the conidence to set up her own business with the aim of making workplaces
happier, healthier and more productive.
hat often starts with focussing on leadership behaviours, attitudes and communication
practices. She works with ambitious business owners and senior staf to help them
overcome barriers to growth, helping them develop the mindset, skills and systems
essential for high performance.
She is an engaging trainer who has worked with managers and teams to make them more
efective. In addition, she has coached small business owners to become more productive,
focussed and successful.
Fiona’s strength is a natural ability to solve business problems. Her client led, pragmatic
and goal centred approach is designed to achieve improvements in performance.
Additionally, her clients beneit from increased conidence, more focus and more
structured, client focussed ways of working. She provides a balanced external
perspective and holds her clients to account so that they implement changes and make
sustained improvement.
Fiona enjoys working with businesses on the following activities:
Communications and engagement – consultation, employee lifecycle, recruitment
and retention, induction, channel creation and management, messaging, event
creation and management, feedback, employee investment, performance and
productivity measurements.
Leadership and management development – including diagnostic, communication and
presentation skills, performance improvement, training and behavioural change

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Customer Focus and Marketing – Internal engagement – building the business
strong from the core; sales, marketing, account management, client and supplier
relationship management
Making Change work – overcoming resistance to change, embedding change,
maintaining productivity during the change process
Strategic Planning – bringing the business plan to life and ensuring staf support
business growth and work to further the business objectives
Business diagnostics, planning and systemisation – research, analysis and action
planning making businesses scalable, monitoring and evaluating
“People are the reason why businesses succeed or fail and that means employing the
right staf and treating them with the care and respect they deserve. Workers are no
longer willing to tolerate a ‘command and control’ management style and that means
that business owners and leaders will have to become better at leading and inspiring,
communicating with their teams and working with them to achieve better results.
Most business owners I speak to believe that the customer is the most important focus
for their business, but they often focus on the customer at the expense of their staf. I
believe that businesses are built from the inside out and the internal brand and values
need to be strong and inform behaviour if the customer is to be served well.
I’ve been a professional communicator for my whole career and I have seen and
experienced the beneits of great communication on business performance. Sadly, the
instances of poor, inefective and destructive communication practices vastly outweigh the
positive experiences. I’m on a mission to help the businesses I work with change that.”
If you are interested in inding out more about how Fiona can support you or your
business, please connect with her: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/ionacohn
email her at: excelarate.uk@gmail.com
Call her on: +44 (0) 7971 103232

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

At work – and everywhere else for that matter, inefective conversations lead to
misunderstanding and conlict. In business, not only is this frustrating for business
owners, managers and staf, but it costs everyone time (something we all complain we
don’t have enough of ) and it costs the business money. It is possibly the single greatest
barrier to achieving business objectives and business success.
George Bernard Shaw summed it up perfectly:

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

Can you remember the last time you delegated a piece of work or asked someone to
do something for you – and what you got back just wasn’t what you expected? How
frustrated were you? And what about the other person? Was there a bit of ‘strained
relations syndrome’ going on as a result?
his happens at work every day of the week and all because people don’t know some
of the basic rules about efective communication. We think that because we were born
with mouths and ears that we use every day, and we often get away with it, that we can
communicate. But in my decades as a communication professional I have seen otherwise.
his book sets out to help you understand the basic principles of efective
communication and show you how to put them into practice. And unlike most books
covering this topic that are aimed at managers, I’ll be looking at conversations from a
variety of perspectives so it will be as relevant for you if you are the most junior person
on the team or the business owner. hat’s because it’s all about perspective…not yours
but the person you are communicating with.
he book will focus on four of the most critical business communication conversations
that regularly take place at work and have the greatest inluence on staf productivity and
business performance. hese are:
Delegating to others
Giving and receiving feedback
Appraisals
Managing change

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

his book will give you strategies and tools so you’ll know exactly how to have these
conversations to get the positive and productive result you want. You’ll help others get
it right irst time, most of the time, get rid of employee apathy and make the place you
work better at making change work.
Much of what is in this book will seem like common sense. Sadly, it is not common
practice in business. In my work I’m constantly amazed by how uncommon, common
sense is.
Communication is how we do business – we get it wrong at our peril.

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SECTION 1

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

1

IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK – COMMON MYTHS

IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN
YOU THINK – COMMON MYTHS

I’m talking about communication. We think we know what it is – but many of us don’t.
his chapter will unpick the principles of how to communicate efectively, what
communication is and is not, and what works with diferent personality types.
Before you can put it into practice, you need to understand the theory.
I’d like to start by busting the most common communication myths.

1.1

GIVING INFORMATION IS COMMUNICATING

In business, people often mistake giving information for communicating. It’s not. Giving
information is one way. It is either broadcasting if you’re giving the information to a
group or narrowcasting if you’re in a one to one situation.
You can give people as much information as you like but you’ll not know their reaction
unless you engage in a dialogue of some sort.

1.2

COMMUNICATION IS TWO WAY

Two-way communication usually referred to in business as top down and bottom up is
better than one-way communication. Communication is in fact three-way, peer to peer
communication plus the other two. Never underestimate the inluence of colleagues
within teams to inluence each other. Peer to peer communication is vital if you want to
create a culture of innovation and collaboration.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

1.3

IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK – COMMON MYTHS

WHAT YOU SAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT
OF COMMUNICATION

Research done by Professor Albert Mehrabian in the 1960s came up with the
statistic (now hotly disputed) suggesting how the key elements of communication are
broken down.

Figure 1: Elements of Communication

Words are probably much more important than this study suggested but they are only
one element of communication. hink about the last time you asked a colleague who
seemed in a bad mood if they were OK and they hissed back at you through clenched
teeth ‘I’m ine.’ How much did you believe them? Or another colleague who habitually
apologises for not responding. hey say they are sorry, but if they keep doing it you’re
left wondering if they really are.
It would be more accurate to say that communication can be broken down into
two elements:
Verbal communication – the words, or ‘raw data’ you use and
Non-verbal communication – the ‘lavour’ of the words. his is the element that adds
underlying emotions, motives, feelings and attitude to what you say.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK – COMMON MYTHS

What you say, how you say it and how you behave (what you do) are all important and
to communicate efectively you’ll want to master all three. And a word of warning, if you
contradict something you say with something you do, everyone will believe what you do
and not what you say.

1.4

IT’S OBVIOUS WHAT YOU MEAN WHEN YOU COMMUNICATE

Let’s paint a scenario here. You’re asking for someone to help you with a project at
work. You tell them what you want them to do and leave them to it. You are completely
familiar with the project and they are not. So you believe you have been completely clear
in your instruction. A few days later they come back having completed the task you
asked them to do. It’s not remotely what you expected. What did you assume when you
were asking them in the irst place? his is all about perspective. It was obvious to you
what you meant by the instruction but it was not obvious to your colleague. And that’s
your fault. If you communicate from your own perspective, more often than not, you
won’t get what you asked for.

360°
thinking

.

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© Deloitte & Touche LLP and affiliated entities.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK – COMMON MYTHS

Another common misconception is that if you repeat yourself enough times, the other
person will get it. I’m sure you’ve heard an exasperated colleague saying ‘but I’ve told you
a hundred times.’ hat’s the communication equivalent of the deinition of madness –
doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a diferent result!
It’s not about what you say but rather what the listener hears. All communication takes
place in the mind of the listener.

1.5

COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY TAKES TOO LONG

‘I don’t have time to explain things in detail,’ is a common management complaint.
hat’s ine if you have the time you’ll need to spend redoing the work when it was done
incorrectly in the irst place. Communicating efectively does take a little longer to start
with. In the end it will save you a lot of time when things are done right irst time, most
of the time.

1.6

YOU DON’T NEED TO PLAN YOUR COMMUNICATION

I’m astounded by the lack of preparation people put into important conversations or
meetings. hey don’t take the time to think about what they want to achieve and how
they will know when they have achieved it. his is the reason why many conversations
and meetings fail to achieve their objectives and are a waste of time. Planning your
communication is the irst step to improving productivity.

1.7

STORIES ARE FOR CHILDREN

Everybody loves stories. If you can illustrate your point with a story, people will engage
with it. his is as important when communicating a business strategy as it is when
encouraging colleagues to get involved with a project. Stories are a powerful way to
present a business case or argument. Create stories based on a simple formula:
What the situation was
Who was involved
How it resolved
Why this information is useful
Start to build a bank of relevant stories that you can use at work.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU THINK – COMMON MYTHS

It is impossible not to communicate. As soon as you walk into a room you’ve
communicated something whether you say anything or not. Your facial expression, how
you move, whether you make eye contact or not. It all says something about your frame
of mind.

1.8

BIG WORDS MAKE YOU LOOK CLEVER

No they don’t – especially if you’re spouting some management BS that you don’t
actually understand. People who communicate well use plain language. People who use
plain language are more interested in being understood than in trying to impress.
Plain language is about making things more easily understood – getting the meaning
across clearly and concisely to the intended audience. Plain language is something that
the intended audience can hear, read, understand and act upon the irst time they hear
or read it. It’s not about ‘dumbing down’, but about using the appropriate language for
the audience.
If you don’t understand exactly what you mean when you communicate, how can you
possibly expect anybody else to?
I was once interviewing a company director for the staf magazine. He started talking
about how important it was to engage staf. As this is a subject I’ve been interested in for
years, I wanted to know more. When I asked him what he understood by engagement
and what would show him that staf were engaged he admitted he didn’t have a clue.
So I asked why he said it if he didn’t understand it. His answer was interesting –
because everyone else on the senior leadership team was talking about the importance
of engagement he thought he ought to do the same. To say any respect I had for him
diminished in that moment is an understatement!
I developed my own deinition for efective communication which has helped many of
the staf I’ve trained understand the fundamental principle of communication:
‘You know that communication has taken place when the person or people you’ve
communicated with do, behave or feel exactly the way you intended them to as a result
of the communication’.
Communication is about achieving an outcome – not for its own sake.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
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2

THE KEY COMPONENTS AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNICATION

THE KEY COMPONENTS
AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF
COMMUNICATION

We are going to get technical in this section so that you understand the key components
and how to use them in principle.

2.1

VERBAL AND NON VERBAL COMMUNICATION

2.1.1 VERBAL COMMUNICATION

he verbal part of communication is the words we use. And those words impact on
others and leave a lasting impression, good and bad. Words can make or break a
relationship so choose them wisely. In business your choice of words could make or
break your career or relationships with important stakeholders.

‘Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you’
‘Don’t mix bad words with your bad mood. You’ll have many opportunities to change
a mood, but you’ll never get the opportunity to replace the words you spoke’
‘One kind word can change someone’s entire day’

Using diferent language will impact how others react to you. If you use passive verbs,
people are less likely to trust or believe you. If you’ve ever been in a position of needing
to complain and the person you complain to responds with ‘something will be done’ or’
there will be an investigation’ your subconscious goes into overdrive. What will be done?
Who will do it? When will they do it?
If the response had been ‘I will investigate / do (something speciic) you automatically
have much more faith that the person you have complained to is taking ownership of the
issue and will do what they say they will about it.
You should use active verbs for 80% of the time. Sometimes using passive verbs is better,
usually to avoid hostility. ‘A mistake was made’ is much less threatening than ‘you made
a mistake’.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

THE KEY COMPONENTS AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNICATION

For the next few days, notice how people use active and passive verbs and how you react
to them.
Using positive language rather than negative language will make what you say easier to
understand. For example:
‘If you don’t bring your report to the meeting we won’t be able to plan the next steps’, –
which is negative, as opposed to:
‘Please bring your report to the meeting so that we can plan the next steps.’
Not only is the negative sentence less clear, it carries a veiled threat. he positive
sentence is more motivating.
2.1.2 DIFFERENT PERSONALITY TYPES

I have a client who wants to have every last detail before she is able to make a decision.
Her business partner hates all the detail and only wants a snapshot. Observing them in
a conversation is interesting. You can see him switch of as she starts getting into the
detail. Psychometric tests showed that they are polar opposite personality types (although
it didn’t need a test of any sort to work that one out).
hink of your colleagues and the way they react in conversations. If you notice that they
aren’t interested in the detail, don’t give it to them. he more you speak, the less they
will listen anyway. If you’re sending them emails it’s probably wise to limit each email to
one subject or issue, use bullet points and keep it brief. hey will respond much better
to that than to a long, wordy email.
Likewise, if you have a colleague that wants lots of detail, give it to them. Even if you
don’t think all the detail is important they will, and remember: communication always
happens in the mind of the listener or receiver so it’s what they want that is important.
2.1.3 NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION

he non-verbal part of communication adds tone and context to the words you use. Or
it may be a total communication in itself.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

THE KEY COMPONENTS AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNICATION

I once worked for someone who had violent mood swings. He would come storming
into the oice some mornings, march to his glass fronted oice and shut the door. On
days like that nobody enjoyed working there. Staf were afraid. he culture he created
led to staf turnover in his business of around 30% year on year – and the business
had fewer than 50 members of staf. On the basis that it costs between 100–150% of
an annual salary to replace a member of staf, that cost his business many thousands of
pounds every year.
2.1.4 TONE OF VOICE

How you use your voice inluences others’ reaction to your words. Have you ever had
to listen to someone talking in a monotone for any length of time? It doesn’t matter
how interesting the subject is, you tend to switch of. Varying your tone makes you
interesting to listen to.
2.1.5 PITCH

High and low pitched voices are diicult to listen to for any length of time. You may
think there isn’t much you can do about your natural speaking voice – and you’d be
wrong. Women with lower pitched voices are deemed to be more authoritative. Margaret
hatcher and Nicola Sturgeon are two good examples. If you listen to recordings of how
Margaret hatcher’s voice changed from when she was irst elected to when she became
Prime Minister, you’ll notice a big diference.
And think about your own reaction to men with high pitched voices. If you notice the
pitch something needs changing.
2.1.6 PACE

Varying the pace of your speech makes you easier to listen to. People who speak too
quickly often ind that people haven’t understood them well. hey can also be viewed
as excitable. And when you listen to someone who speaks slowly, do you ind yourself
losing concentration?
2.1.7 PROJECTION

he way you project your voice gives people an impression of your conidence. Mumble,
talk behind your hand, speak too softly and people could think you don’t believe in
what you’re saying or lose trust in you. Conversely, speaking too loudly could give the
impression you are brash, or threatening.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

THE KEY COMPONENTS AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNICATION

2.1.8 PAUSE AND USING SILENCE

Using silence well is a communication art. Most of us hate silence, which is a shame
because it can be very valuable. Silence gives you and others time to think in the middle
of a conversation. You’ll need to be able to tell the diference between silence because
someone is thinking and silence because they are confused or don’t understand. And with
practice you’ll get better at that.
Next time you ask someone a question and they don’t respond straight away, avoid the
temptation to jump straight in and ask the question again in a diferent way. Let the
person have time to think about it and the quality of their response will more likely than
not be better than it would otherwise have been.
2.1.9 BODY LANGUAGE

Body language will give you great clues to how someone is feeling. here are lots of
books about body language so I won’t go into too much detail here. Maintaining open
postures – where your arms and legs are not crossed, sensible eye contact and smiling are
all good body language indicators. Also nodding when others are speaking to you so that
they know you are engaging with them is good practice.
2.1.10 BUILDING EMPATHY AND RAPPORT

Figure 2: Elements you need to create empathy and rapport

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

THE KEY COMPONENTS AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNICATION

Communication is how we do business and building empathy and rapport is a large
part of efective communication. We build empathy and rapport through the way we
communicate verbally and non-verbally.
his is going to sound obvious so please stay with me. We are all diferent and we all
have diferent communication preferences. When you can recognise others’ preferences
you’ll be able to connect with them and build rapport more easily.
Most human beings process information by using their ive main senses. Although
we have these senses, some will be more developed in us than others. It’s through our
preferred senses that we make sense of the world.

Visual – see it
Auditory – hear it
Kinaesthetic – do it
Most people have a preference for one of the three primary senses – seeing or visual,
hearing or auditory and feeling, tactile or kinaesthetic.
Do you know if you have a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic preference? Do you even
know how to work this out?
If you think in pictures and say things like ‘I see what you mean’, ‘I get the picture’, and
‘that looks right’ you probably have a visual preference.
Alternatively, if you hear things in your mind and say ‘I hear what you are saying’,
‘sounds good to me’, ‘that’s clear as a bell’, or ‘we’re on the same wavelength’ you
probably have an auditory preference.
If you get a feeling about things and use phrases like ‘I can’t get a grip on that’,
‘I feel that won’t work’, ‘that touched me’ or ‘I get it’, you probably have a
kinaesthetic preference.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
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THE KEY COMPONENTS AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNICATION

Once you are aware of this you can detect the preferred sense of anyone that you are
talking to.
his is important at work because it afects how people learn and their ability to take
instruction. If you speak to someone using language for a diferent preference, they will
ind it more diicult to understand you – or even understand you at all.
he other reason it’s important is because if afects how people learn, so if you are
teaching someone something and they just don’t get it, that may be because you’re asking
them to learn in a way that doesn’t work for them.
I had a client who was mentoring two trainees in the business. One was making really
good progress and the other wasn’t. ‘I’ve done exactly the same with both of them,’ my
exasperated client told me. She was surprised when I said that might be the problem.
When she worked out the preference of the trainee who hadn’t progressed and trained
him in a diferent way, he started making better progress.
Briely, someone with a visual preference will learn best by watching. Someone with
an auditory preference will learn best by listening and someone with a kinaesthetic
preference will learn best by doing. It’s a bit more complicated than that but for the
purposes of this book, it will suice.
Learning style

Traits

How to train/explain

Visual

Seeing, Reading

Use graphs, charts,
diagrams, videos

Auditory

Hearing, Speaking

Have colleagues ask
questions and verbalise
what they have learned

Kinaesthetic

Touching, Doing,
Experiencing

Demonstrate skills or tasks,
let colleagues have a go

Figure 3: Using VAK to train/explain more effectively

So speaking using the same language preference will help build rapport and help you
have more efective conversations.

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MAXIMISE YOUR IMPORTANT
BUSINESS CONVERSATIONS

THE KEY COMPONENTS AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNICATION

One word of caution. hese are preferences not absolutes, and although there is a
dominant style, we draw on all of our senses. hat may make it a bit more diicult to
spot someone’s preference at irst. A learning style may also vary from task to task so the
learner may prefer one style of learning for one task and a combination of others for a
diferent one.
Other ways to build rapport are by matching voice and body language. his is
particularly helpful when you are talking to someone who is agitated and may be raising
their voice and speaking quickly.
You can also raise your voice and speak quickly and start pulling back – lowering your
voice and slowing down. Very often this will prompt the other person to do the same
and they will become calmer.
You can also mirror someone else’s body position and posture to create rapport – but
please be careful and don’t make a sudden change to your body posture that looks like
you are mimicking them.
Look at the photo below. hese two friends are naturally mirroring each other.

Figure 4: Mirroring body language

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