Thursday, August 26, 2004

Persuasive Listening

Listening well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk
well. - John Marshall

Most people think that sales is simply a process of talking until you persuade the listener to take action. Effective salespeople however, know to stop talking and simply listen. The best salespeople will listen and help you sell to yourself.

This skill needn't be used simply for the successful completion of a commercial transaction - it adds enormous value to all of the encounters you have during the day and makes for a better life. It's also an acquired habit.

How can you improve your listening? First, by admitting even the slightest possibility that you might not always listen with absolute effectiveness. So there is some room for improvement, however small. Commit to improving.

When you are serious about listening to someone, first be sure you turn to them and look at them. And look into the windows of their soul - their eyes. Remembering (and working) to look a speaker in the eyes requires you to focus your attention on the speaker.

Next is that little voice in your head, that can take you to where the speaker is heading or it can take you in a thousand divergent directions. Don't quash the little voice, the thoughts in your head, but focus them as you have focused your gaze - on the speaker. Get that little voice to work towards effective listening. Use it to remember your questions and organize the speaker's words for you.

Very often, I don't hear the questions about what other person has said, until after the conversation is over. This is what I like to call the "Columbo syndrome" (yes, after the TV detective). Usually, I was thinking ahead of the speaker or I was thinking about myself and missed thinking about and acting on the questions I was accumulating.

An example, me in the eternal quest of supremacy over the office copier - I'm currently losing:

My Little Voice (MLV): I really need to get this copied - I have to distribute it before people go home. &#%@!

Me: "%#@*! Jammed! Hey, Amy, how do you clear this?"

Coworker Amy: "You need to open the side of the copier and then it..."

MLV: I know you have to open the side in addition to the front, I've already looked for the jammed paper....

Me (interrupting): "Yeah, I've gotten the side open and flipped open levers A, B, C but I didn't see the paper."

Coworker Amy: "and then it tells you where it's jammed with either a red L.E.D. or on the display panel."

MLV: Why didn't I see any paper jam - is there another problem it could be having? It didn't tell me where it was jammed, so there must be another problem.

Me: "uh huh" I say as I poke more levers inside the evil contraption.

Coworker Amy: "See ya"

MLV: It tells you where it's jammed? Where?

Me: "Bye"

MLV: She's gone, how are you going to figure out where it's jammed? You could've asked Amy...

Me: "Grrrr"

In this little vignette, I hope you see that if I'd just focused on Amy, I would've heard her completely and asked the obvious question. The fact I interrupted her should've told me that I wasn't paying attention!

I should've pulled my hands out of the machine, looked at Amy and concentrated on organizing her thoughts in my brain, putting them in the places I needed to keep them organized. I needed to be "in the moment".

Other ways to focus on the other person:

  • Reflect what you have heard - put the other person's message in your own words and check with the speaker that you have it clear.
  • Check on your emotions - what do you feel right now? Does this go along with the speakers words? If not, you should probably acknowledge it, and in the flow of the the communication let the other person in on it as well. Remember that these emotions are playing across your face and in your body language - probably long before your little voice spoke up to you.
  • Remember your questions as they come up and see if you get the answer without asking. If not, when it's a good time, ask!
  • Think in terms of the other person. Above, Amy is thinking about trying to tell you how to clear the machine. She is not thinking about why I have to have these copies in five minutes. Remember that her goal is helping you unjam the copier - since that is what you asked.

In short: Remember to Turn, Look, and Listen.

This is a lifelong process, but the results can be immediate. People can tell when you're listening.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


The value of questions is endless. They can keep you looking smart and capable - as previously discussed - they can also make you more capable and smarter. Asking questions doesn't just provide new insights, ideas and facts from others, but can provide direction to your own thoughts as well.

When you communicate, somewhere, somehow you reach a decision that you need to say something. Getting to that decision is where questions - to yourself - provide enormous benefit.

Learn to ask yourself the fundamental question: "What do I want?"

This simple act is a tool for achievement, happiness, and direction in life. And it's not selfish to ask yourself this. Unless it's the only question you ask...

You have a reason for saying something, what is it? Do you want to learn, flatter someone, console someone, teach something, make people laugh, get a refund, avoid a conflict, or simply pass the time getting to know someone? What do you want?

Know why you are communicating, so you're better at answering the question of "How should I communicate this?" Write it, whisper it, send flowers, yell, grovel, or hold your tongue? How depends on what and why. Which you won't know, if you haven't asked!

One of the biggest advantages to writing over speaking is that it forces you to ask these questions. I knew that I wanted to share how important asking yourself questions can be. The tone and organization of this little monograph flowed from that answer. Once you've given this much conscious thought to what you want to communicate, you have fixed in your mind a goal and direction.

Moving that mind-set over to speaking is no easy task. If you don't already have a habit of asking yourself the "What do I want?" question regularly, well, it's an acquired taste. My brain seems wired to ask "how" questions and not the "what" and "why" types. In every arena of life, questions are more and more valuable and worth the time invested in making them work for you.

  • What do I want?
  • What do I want to say?
  • Why?
  • How do I want to say it?
  • When?
  • Where?

Friday, July 30, 2004

When your life depends on effective communication

This is a link very much worth checking out. Dealing with the interpersonal communications skills of police and military, it provides insight to the importance of just how you communicate.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Listen here

As a speaker, you spend a lot of time thinking about the listener. But, how much time to you spend thinking about listening? How good a listener are you?

Speak up - How you deliver

How you deliver the words that you've thought over, organized and groomed for grammar, is quite simply, your last opportunity to blow it. Or as the post-modernist-optimistic self-help guru's would say: "It's your chance to succeed and exceed!"

It's actually not as grim as I might put it, since usually, the audience is pulling for you. They want you to be interesting, captivating and persuasive. They like the feeling that you are in control and taking them along with you.

Remember this though: If you are speaking from a prepared text, a written speech - rehearse it, memorize it and condense it into notes so that you can deliver your speech to the audience, not down into the pile of papers which you are hanging onto for dear life.

I listened to a speaker at the Democratic National Convention who slowly, clearly and methodically read her prepared remarks. I listened hard and decided her words were worthwhile, but there was no passion behind them, she wasn't speaking directly to me, and as a result my mind wandered. I can't even remember who she was.

Why rehearse?
Think of all the elements that make up your delivery:

  • Volume
  • Vocal pitch
  • Facial expression
  • Gestures
  • Body language
  • Speed (or lack thereof)

I'm sure this list misses things - it's simply to show you there are a number of things you'll need to work on every time you open your mouth. Can you remember your point, your words and make music out of them without practice and rehearsal?

Rehearse. In the car, the bathroom, while walking the dog and whenever else you make time. The importance of what you are saying and why you are speaking determines the amount of time needed practicing it. Would you do less when participating in a piano recital or sporting event?

The more you do it the better you'll get.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

How you say it - Grammar counts

Continuing with the three way breakdown of How you say things, out of
  • Structure
  • Grammar
  • Delivery

Now we are looking at grammar "the principles or rules of an art, science, or technique " of communication. Everything on the language of what you say, from vocabulary, sentence structure to  figures of speech, falls in this category.


One of my favorite examples of grammar as an effective tool is the question posed by Groucho Marx: "So, when did you stop beating your wife?" 

Grammar is the easiest and hardest thing to effect in your speaking. You have a whole storehouse of grammatical patterns built into your everyday speech and thinking. If these consist of good habits, then life is good otherwise you have that much more work ahead of you. If you need to improve your use of words, your common figures of speech, you overall way of string words into sentences and thoughts, the good news is you have a lot of opportunities to do it - whenever you open your mouth. The bad news is you will need to break old habits, conscious of what you say and how whenever you open your mouth.

Lose bad habits

Look for easy things first - cuss words and outright obscenities first. Then look for otherwise over-used phrases "duh", "you know", "whatever". Listen to yourself carefully. For a real eye opener try a voice operated recorder - just carry it around in a pocket for a day or so. You'll listen and cringe. Kids are also helpful in pointing out some of these foibles.

Once you are attacking these verbal bad habits, they'll often cause you to fill in the spaces with other sounds - um's and ah's that you'll need to prevent lest they get added as another verbal twitch.

Try to replace bad habits with good habits, instead of always simply going cold turkey. For instance, replace "you know" with "do you understand?" This is a helpful feedback mechanism and it's long enough that you'll drop it when you don't need, just to save the effort.

Have a goal

As you conquer your bad habits - replacing bad habits with better habits, you'll slowly acquire a growing awareness of what you say, as you say it. At this point, you can start thinking ahead more easily, thinking about the goal, the reason your point of what you are saying.

Now you are integrating structure!

There's more...

Monday, June 28, 2004

How you speak is as important as what you speak

How you say something carries as much weight as what you say.

If you are disorganized or offensive or even too loud or too soft, your listener will not concentrate on what you are saying. They're spending too much time thinking about how you are speaking.

How you speak covers a multitude of topics, but it easier to break the elements down to:

  • Structure - How you organize what you say
  • Grammar - How you word what you say 
  • Delivery - How you say it, including eye contact, voice control and body language


The structure of what you are saying starts with one simple thing: What's your point?

If you start speaking and you don't know what your point is, why you are speaking? In most contexts you really needn't bother to start yammering simply to add your bray to the fray.

Now this doesn't preclude speaking to move along a conversation that's just for fun. That is a point in and of itself. Even in a pleasant conversation, if you simply repeat what the previous person said or repeat yourself, you will not add to the conversation and you'll be left out or the conversation will simply wither away.

Participating in a pleasant conversation is a different reason for speaking than trying to convince your boss to give you a raise. Having a different point is going to change the structure of what you say and this is a key example of it.

When your point is "I'm important to this company and I would like a raise", your overall structure might come down to:

  1. I have made valuable contributions to the company this year - don't you agree?
  2. I haven't had a raise recently.
  3. Please give me a raise.
  4. I know you think you can't give me a raise because of X, but you should because of Y.
  5. Thanks for the raise.

Now this isn't a huge mental effort, but having a structure means having a plan and means having thought out what you are doing and why you are speaking. A good place to start. 

The how of speaking is separate from the what. This is actually a topic that has been thought on. studied and written about for thousands of years. It is called Rehetoric. This is often used in a pejorative sense - that rhetoric obscures the true meaning of speech as "in insincere or grandiloquent language".

Now though, you have an idea of the importance and value of Rhetoric - properly the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion and how important it is each time you open your mind through your mouth. As such, here is a good introduction, a Rhetoricae.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

How you speak = How you think

Whenever you open your mouth to speak, remember this:

How well you speak is an indication of how well you think. 

If you speak well, it reflects an ability to think well.  Conversely, if you think well, very often (particularly in comfortable situations) you will speak well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Speaker's Silver Bullet

If you are looking for one important thing, the silver bullet, the undiscovered miracle of public speaking, it is:

      Toastmasters International.

For a first year expense of less than $50, you get regular experiences speaking in front of a group and getting the most valuable feedback you are likely to ever receive. It's like having a roomful of speaking tutors at your disposal. And you get to sit in the role of teacher and evaluator as well, tuning your critical listening and thinking skill further.

You'll get a book that will take you on a 10 lesson course in the fundamentals of public speaking - something that you will come back to time and time again.

There is no better avenue for learning public speaking.

Now that I've obviated this website, I guess I'll go home now. I just wish I could keep a good thing to myself....!

Friday, February 27, 2004

Nothing to say? Then don't say anything!

That's why this bit of blog has been so long in coming. Much like any good speech, toast or presentation, a blog should have something to say and should say it well. Concise, well-organized and thoughtful is preferred to wordy, rambling and haphazard.

In that vein, the thought occurs "What if I have nothing to say but I must say something?". For those times when you are in situation where you need to exhibit some leadership, thoughtfulness or insight - but find yourself (momentarily) bereft of any of these - don't simply open your mouth and start yammering. Instead, rise above the fray and simply Ask a question.

Grasp onto whatever threads of conversation you have heard and think of the basics: What? Where? Why? When? How? Who?

There are always questions, you just need to keep a questioning frame of mind. So often we are called on to know that it seems we can't ask questions and show that we don't know. But remember, the quest to know more always begins with a question.

Sometimes it's hard to ask the real questions you have, to the people you are with. Such as your boss. I can understand the dynamic where quizzing the boss isn't going to get you very far. So, try asking yourself the question. Very often the phrase "I was asking myself..." is the perfect way to open a line of questions to a group without threatening, challenging or badgering anyone.

Try a mental exercise (or as a game with friends): As you listen to or participate in a conversation, pretend the only thing you can do is ask questions. No statements, assertions, or exclamations that aren't in the form of a question. It's actually pretty fun.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Eschewing the Inane

How to avoid the inane initial post of the "This is a red letter day - This blog has sprung to life and that's about all I have to say!" ?

Here's how....