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Communication Gap: Using Our Words Wisely

Communication builds relationships, and all business is about relationships. Here's a short list of best practices...

By Karl Winkler November 9, 2017

One of the biggest challenges any of us face in our careers, and maybe even personally, is communicating effectively.

Sub-standard communication, or lack of it altogether, can severely damage or hold back an organization or an individual. And I’ve yet to find a problem or awkward situation that can’t be made almost immediately better with good communication.

In the business of live sound reinforcement, there are numerous potential pitfalls in this regard, ranging from old riders to lack of a rider to not being clear with crew members to bad instructions from those above us – and many more.

Communication builds relationships, and all business is about relationships. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to put together a short list of “best practices.”

1. Determine a clear sense of logic before starting the communication process.

What are the priorities in the message? Who is the intended audience? Is there anything they need to know before the next part of the message? This is helpful in paring away unneeded bits while making sure the important stuff in included and emphasized.

2. Treat vendors like customers.

This one is simple, but I don’t see it happening as often as it probably should. Basically, if we can’t treat our vendors the same way we would want to be treated as customers, we’re missing out on a host of benefits.

Personally, I try to put myself in someone’s shoes before picking up the phone or starting an email. How would I like to be addressed? What information would I need if I were them? And, it almost goes without saying that we should do the same thing when communicating with our customers. (Right?)

3. Keep in mind that various forms of communication are better (or worse) for certain purposes.

Face-to-face is still the best way to communicate with someone, and some of the reasons are interesting.

For one thing, non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions are shared and understood. But another, more subtle thing with any technology-based communication method is that humans are extremely sensitive to timing.

Certainly, we’ve all been frustrated by cell phone conversations where there’s a noticeable delay and/or dropouts. It can drive us nuts when we can’t seem to “get in the flow” of the conversation. As it turns out, people can perceive timing discrepancies in a conversation well below 1 millisecond (that’s a thousandth of a second). Maybe it’s because we’ve fine tuned ourselves in trying to get a word in edge-wise with our mother-in-law at the dinner table.

Video conferencing lets us see and hear each other, although the timing might be slightly off due to latency. And there’s no personal handshake or hug at the end that can add affirmation of what’s been discussed. On the phone, we can at least hear the nuances and inflections in each others’ voices.

Way down the list is email, which is devoid of all these subtleties.

In other words, we should focus and take care to generate written communications that are straightforward, along with following common grammar and spelling conventions as much as possible. One problem is that folks don’t seem to want to take the time to do this anymore, and on the other side, sometimes they don’t want to take the time to thoroughly read an entire message. Which leads me to:

4. Keep the communication direct and to the point.

We’ve probably experienced times when a carefully written email with 17 important points receives a one-sentence response that only addresses the first point. If you’re like me, you want to reach through your computer screen and strangle someone what that happens.

But is it totally their fault? It’s taught me to be very economical with words and ideas, and prioritize them from most to least important out of the gate.

5. Read the whole doggone email before responding! Maybe read it twice!

Also, if it’s a thread, try reading the whole thing to get valuable context. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen into the trap of just reading the top message and not knowing all of the background before responding. (Oops!) This can be challenging because we’re all pressed for time. But when it comes to communication, taking the time to fully understand the issue and respond accordingly is worth a whole lot.

6. Texting can be a great way to reach someone immediately and (hopefully) get a quick response, but it has drawbacks.

There’s no convenient way to store the information offline. Some devices don’t attach dates/times to messages, so it can be difficult to figure out a timeline if needed. It’s also not good for longer messages.

7. With in-person, video conference and phone conversations, be careful not to “listen to reply.”

This is a common problem and often makes things worse rather than better. In other words, take the time and put in the effort to listen carefully. An old-school technique is to reply first by summarizing what was said before adding new information. This can sometimes be overdone but the idea is still valid.

8. Conclude the conversation or meeting with a summary of what was decided, and who’s going to do what.

We’ve no doubt all been in countless meetings where this doesn’t happen because everyone assumes that everyone else heard what we heard, and plans to act upon the information in the same way we plan to act. Way too often this isn’t the case, and besides, it never hurts to have a five-minute (or less) summary conversation. And don’t forget to take notes!

9. Be timely.

No one wants to receive valuable information about the next day’s important gig at midnight. At the same time (pardon the pun), sending a message too early can also be problematic, because the information can easily be forgotten or misplaced.

10. Finally, we need to keep our egos in check and remember that we were all once eager, starry-eyed young people looking up to our elders in the industry and lapping up every utterance.

We vividly remember those who treated us well and those who did not. It’s important to treat others with respect and humility, and the best way to do this is with clear, consistent, logical communication in whatever form that makes the most sense for the situation at hand.

Think about the great quotes we see on the Internet from historical figures, and note how few words they used to sum up some really important concepts. We can do this too. Imagine a day in the future when the next generation is quoting your great statements: “Ask not what your system can do for you, ask what you can do for your system.”

Hey – it could happen!

About Karl

Karl Winkler
Karl Winkler

Vice President of Sales at Lectrosonics
Karl serves as vice president of sales/service at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 25 years.
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