September 2002
Volume 44 Number 9

Bottom Line: Is Your Communication Clearly Misunderstood?
by William Blades   Pages: 

After I spoke at a convention in Hawaii, I joined a lunch table where an attendee said, “I already knew many of the ideas you presented, I just hadn’t thought of them yet.” His face became an instant magnet for everyone that heard his remark. Everyone had the look of “Did I just hear what I think I heard?” The real art of communication isn’t only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at a tempting moment.

Communication is an art that must be mastered for an individual to become very successful. I believe the four biggest areas for communication improvement are listening, clarity, length and style. Let’s start with clarity. Regarding a claim about over-the-counter cold remedies, a humorist once said, “Proper treatment will cure a cold in seven days but, left to itself, a cold would hang on for a week.” Uh, OK.

Clearing the error
Have you ever heard someone say, “I didn’t hear you say that.” Here’s how to handle that if you aren’t going to confirm the conversation in writing. Ask the person to take notes during the meeting and have him read them to you before leaving the meeting. That’s clarity to the extreme -- and it works. If the notes aren’t exact, agree on the necessary changes before he leaves the meeting.

Smart salespeople understand what real selling is -- 90 percent listening and taking great notes and only 10 percent talking. In addition, listen intently to every word as it could change the meaning of the whole sentence. Clarity is a two-way street. Salespeople that don’t come close to the 90/10 ratio don’t come close to their sales quotas either. Many of them don’t just miss a word or two from the client; they miss complete sentences. This often happens when they’re thinking of what they’re going to say next while the client is providing important information. I’m sorry, guys, but this is usually a male phenomena.

Always double-check
To ensure clarity with a client, it’s smart to repeat his or her words back in a form such as, “This is what I wrote down. Is that correct?” Also, remember for clarity’s sake, don’t interrupt them. Talk is cheap because supply exceeds the demand. A good role model for clarity would be Mae West. She was a master of one-liners. When asked what she liked about men, she said, “I only like two kinds of men -- domestic and imported.”

Here’s one memo a president sent to the vice president: “Tomorrow at 9:00, Haley’s Comet will be visible, an event which occurs only once every 75 years. Have all employees assemble in the parking lot and I will explain this rare phenomenon to them. In case of rain, we will not be able to see anything, so let’s assemble in the cafeteria and I will show them films on it.”

The vice-president sent it to the managers, and one of them composed his own memo to ensure his people were well informed.

“By executive order of the President, tomorrow at 9:00, the phenomenal Haley’s Comet will appear in the cafeteria. In case of rain in the parking lot, the President will give an order, which is something that takes place only once every 75 years.”

The message here -- When you must issue written correspondence, have someone read it before it’s sent. Does it make sense, and does it read well?

Scoring style points
Style in communication means it’s not what you say, but how you say it. This is referred to as selling -- not telling -- your ideas. The following are what motivates people to listen:
* Non-verbal…………61 percent
* Verbal………………31 percent
* Information…………8 percent

Non-verbal communication includes appearance, posture, facial expressions and note taking. Plus, humor counts. In summary, only 8 percent of the clients’ reception to your presentation will be formed by the data, and 92 percent by style. John Kennedy had style as did Martin Luther King; Richard Nixon didn’t. Poor sales performers don’t either. If you don’t score a 10 with style, get a coach to help you. It’s an investment that pays big dividends down the road.

Brief and to the point
Length boils down to utilizing economy with words. In other words, don’t miss a good chance to shut up. Droning on and on is boring to just about anyone. Eventually, they tune you out. They also might be thinking, “He takes a long time to make his pointless.” One study showed that using visuals such as literature, flip charts and overheads/slides resulted in a reduction of a whopping 40 percent to present a concept thoroughly.

Remember, time is money. In addition, when using visuals, people are 43 percent more likely to be persuaded. Visuals also help their retention, which is shown in the percentages in Table 1.

The message here -- use visuals to ensure clarity and reduce the time to communicate. It’s very professional. In my accurate estimation, I’m almost exactly sure you will be terribly pleased by trying to improve your communication. Or, something like that.

About the author
Bill Blades, CMC, CPS, is a professional speaker and consultant specializing in sales and leadership issues. He is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and can be reached at (480) 563-5355, (480) 563-0515 (fax), email: bill@ or website: