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Learning to Use Free Association to Speak with Anyone (including future employers and mentors)

In two recent blogs, I discussed how using empathy can help you in most social interactions.

In the first blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/how-to-use-free-association-to-build-a-bridge-in-socialising-and-creating-bonds/), I wrote about the importance of finding the other person’s “why” —his or her passion—in order to forge powerful bridges with that individual.

The second blog (https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/537/) took this “why” approach and applied it to a specific job interview.

There is one theme that binds together these two blogs: The most important step you can do in having meaningful conversations is by not focusing on yourself and immediately listing all the wonderful things you can offer. Rather, work on understanding the other individual and determining what is important to him or her, and then convince that person that you share similar passions. (If this is true; if it is not true, do you want to be working with that person?)

You do this through having real curiosity about others; through associating one idea with another; by using you own general knowledge to elicit more information.

Here are some examples.

Setting: You’re speaking with an important client over coffee, and the client mentions that he is from Holland. What can you say here? What do you know about Holland? (Hopefully, you know it’s in Europe.) Quickly pull up categories that could be used to find out more about that person.

The graphic, below, would show the type categories of knowledge I have about Holland:

Holland free assoc

 

 

 

With these associations, I would ask these type questions (look at the associations starting at “noon” and going clockwise around the circle):

  • I’ve always admired the art of Rembrandt, Vermeer (etc.) and am dying to visit the Rijksmuseum. Have you been?

  • I just read an article about global warming and I understand that Holland is below sea level. Is global warming a threat to your country? How is it handling that threat?

  • I love to garden and have seen amazing pictures of your country in the spring with all those beautiful flowers. Is it as gorgeous as I think it is? Where do you go to see all the bulbs in bloom? When is the best time?

  • Pardon my ignorance, but I know very little about the Dutch language (and you speak English so well). I’ve heard it spoken a few times and it sounds a little like German; is Dutch a Germanic language? Is it hard to learn?

You’d be surprised at how much you really DO know about a topic; you simply need to learn how to quickly retrieve that knowledge to ask questions.

Why bother with this? You really don’t care about the Netherlands; you don’t give a toss about whether the language is related to German or not. Well, here are two things to think about:

  • Everything can be interesting for its own sake; why not learn something new just for the sake of learning something new??
  • This type questioning shows people that you are interested in them and want to understand what is important to them. THIS technique should be your foundation of communication, for people crave being understood, being “listened-to.” Once you have established this foundation of empathy, you can build a relationship by telling them about you and what you can offer.

Let’s look at one more situation.  You’re in a conference and it’s break time; you’re chatting with a CEO of a tech start-up that excites you and you’d like to know more about it. You know several things about this company, and now you have the chance to make an impression. You do this best by asking targeted questions about the company, not by talking about yourself. (In this association exercise, I will demonstrate my own lack of knowledge about tech start-ups, but wanted to use a more technical situation, so bear with me:)

Start up free assoc

 

If I were in this situation, I would ask these type questions (again, start with the “noon” position and go clockwise):

  • I understand you are doing very exciting things with (mention whatever platform, software or hardware it is…) I’ve been exploring that area, too, and would enjoy hearing your experience using it.

  • I just read an article about your company trying to improve (fill in the blank) and to meet this social / technical need (whatever it might be). In my spare time, I’ve been working on similar things. Tell me more about what your company wants to achieve.

  • Do you have much competition in this area? What do you hope to accomplish in five or ten years—or is it too early to be even thinking about that?

  • I understand you have a background in (fill in the blank) and that you got your idea for this start up by (fill in the blank). That’s fascinating—I’d love to hear more about how you started your company, and what were the main obstacles you had to overcome.

If you can start using this technique of using your own varied knowledge to build bridges with others, soon they will be asking about you. And then it will be your turn to shine.

 

 

I am a communications coach in the Melbourne and Geelong area, and my company is called Eloquent English: 

www.eloquentenglish.com. I offer workshops in public speaking,

self-presentation, active listening and pronunciation, among others.

Email me at arashap@eloquentenglish.com

Remember: “It’s your story. Get it right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Free Associating: Using active listening to nab the job interview

I’ll start this blog with a story that relates to the last blog I posted, in which I stated that:

  • Learning to listen and discover the other person’s “why” for doing what they do is significant because
  • With this information, you can align your “why” with their “why”. Then the real interaction and mutual benefit can take place.

https://eloquentenglishsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/how-to-use-free-association-to-build-a-bridge-in-socialising-and-creating-bonds/

I did this when I was living in Singapore. I had received a call from the assistant of a very high-ranking government official: I was being considered as a public speaking coach for this gentleman; might we be able to discuss this project soon? He would like to visit me in my home.

Eeek. I also discovered that this official was involved in government security; when I told my friends who this person was, they freaked out. “You do realize you are being observed right now,” they said, “and ALL your records are being gone over with a fine-tooth comb.” They then ran away so they wouldn’t be seen in public with me.

Well. I sighed, cleaned my apartment and waited for the meeting. At exactly the appointed time, a black limo glided into view and there was a knock on my door.

A very mild-looking, trim man came in. He was modest in demeanour and soft-spoken—not a scary individual at all. He quickly glanced around the apartment and made a small nod—of approval, I thought. I invited him to sit and offered him tea, which he politely declined.

So what happened? Did he ask me piercing questions about my past, trying to sniff out any infractions I might have committed? Absolutely not. We spoke about Singapore history, the effectiveness of many of its policies, the social problems the country still faced and possible solutions. We did not discuss any business interaction, and I did not rush in to reassure him that I could be a fabulous coach. At the end of the interview he smiled, shook my hand and said, “We’ll be in touch.”

Within a few hours, I had this man as a client.

What happened?

#1 (of course), my apartment was pristinely clean—reflecting the respect due an honoured guest

#2, I demonstrated to him that, though I was an outsider living in Singapore, I was an interested outsider. I knew key things about its history, I spoke with sincere admiration about many of the island’s accomplishments and yet also demonstrated I was not blind to some of the social problems its citizens faced.

#3, I listened carefully to what he said, asked him to clarify some of the things he mentioned, and made it clear that I was honoured to learn from him.

Basically, I let this individual know that I appreciated living in Singapore and was committed to living there and understanding as much about it as I could. I cared about the country and communicated my concern and interest.

 

flowerflower

This government official and I shared this interest. That was enough for him; I got the job.

In the next blog, I’ll discuss how I used active listening to draw the person out. I’ll examine the bits of that conversation and what made me get the gig.

I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.

www.eloquentenglish.com

“It’s your story. Get it right.”

How to Use Free Association in Socialising and Creating Bonds. Part 1: Building Bridges

OK, I lie. What I’m about to discuss is not free association per se; that’s a technique in which the patient blurts out any thought associations that come to mind, no matter how seemingly unrelated they may seem to be.

In this blog and the next, I’ll be taking a modified version of this exercise to help you become the best conversationalist you can be. These days, hundreds of people are competing for everyone’s attention: between the Facebook posts and Tweets, how can you get someone to pay attention to YOU and what YOU can offer? It’s not easy to stand above the crowd.

The unfortunate reality is: we are all selfish beasts at heart. When you’re trying to impress someone else, you need to remember that the other person is doubtless thinking: “What’s in it for me? Why should I be interested in this person?”

This harsh reality is especially true when we’re searching for mentors, job leads or are facing a job interview. If you can find out what you and the other person have in common—and can focus on those commonalities—you can create a bond that just might lead to someplace amazing.

Motivational speaker Simon Sinek gave one of the most famous Ted talks of all time, with millions of hits*. His message is a simple one:

We do not make decisions logically. We make decisions with the part of our brain that processes feelings like trust and loyalty. We do not automatically analyse data and then carefully make a decision.

You need to make people get to the “Why”: WHY should they be interested in you? What’s in it for them? Simply listing all the wonderful things you can offer won’t get you anywhere, for everyone does this; your words will become part of the endless chatter and noise that usually lead to Nowheresville. You need to forge a connection between you and the other person: Why do you want to get out of bed in the morning? What passion motivates you? Do you and the other share the same passion? It’s up to YOU to build a bridge that links you and the other through verbal acts of active discovery.

I gave a communications workshop at a scientific organisation in Melbourne the other week, and one of the participants left, saying, “Gee, this is more complex than I thought.”

Yes, that is true. But learning how to (kind of) free associate with the other individual, to get to each other’s similar “why” can result in wonderful things.

Specific techniques will come tomorrow. Stay tuned.

 

I’m owner of the Melbourne-based company Eloquent English, and I can help you find YOUR story: in a CV, a job interview, a website, annual report or a presentation.

www.eloquentenglish.com

“It’s your story. Get it right.”

 

job-interview

 

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4

Humour: Careful how you use it when giving presentations in other countries

I was attending a training session in Singapore. The audience was primarily Singaporean, with some people from the U.K. and the USA. The trainer was a friendly, blustery gentleman from the USA. He genially beamed at his audience and thought he’d start off the session with a bang.

He told a joke.

Let’s just say—his session started with a whimper. The Singaporeans stared at him, stony faced. As an American, I kind of liked the quip and snickered. The Brits smiled politely.

The lesson here: BE CAREFUL WHEN USING HUMOUR. While scholars have noted that almost every culture worldwide does recognise, appreciate and produce humour, the kind of humour that different people like varies greatly from culture to culture.

What IS humour? Charles Darwin suggested that it is a form of communication that binds people (and others) together—indeed, many of the apes engage in laughter. Freud—being Freud—thought of humour as the release of sexual or aggressive tension. Contemporary scholars note that humour happens when we are given surprising information which is resolved in a bizarre manner.1 That is true. Think of a typical sit-com or movie and how people react to a situation. It’s their strange reactions that are so funny (Mr. Bean!).

Many of us will travel to different countries and work with people from different countries. Please note: what you think is funny—others might find un-funny. Here are some quick thoughts about the use of humour cross-culturally.

  1. Share common ground. It’s easy to crack a joke or tell a humorous narrative when you and your audience share the same culture or experiences. You and they will have “insider” knowledge that will allow you to tell jokes everyone will appreciate.
  2. Clear language. Make sure you do not use ambiguous language when being humorous. Keep the language simple. And if you are giving a joke in a language that is not your mother tongue—go over the material with someone who is a native speaker of that language to make sure you do not have some unintentional bits of humour.
  3. Body language. Some cultures (France and Italy) adore physical, slapstick humour. Other cultures (Malaysia) do not.2

Below is a very unscientific list of a few countries and the type humour they exhibit. (As always with this type breakdown: this list gives generalities. Different people in different countries will exhibit a wide range of humour. No generality will work for everyone.)

  1. Australia: Not only was the country “officially founded” by British convicts, it is DANGEROUS: snakes, treacherous waters, insects—if it’s hazardous, Australia has it. Ozzies have learnt to laugh at these conditions, with “no worries!” as their rallying cry. Folks from Down Under love to throw darts at people in authority. (Criticising politicians is a national sport here.) Similar to its British counterpart, Australian humour can also be dry and ironic. Australians love to joke, and don’t separate work and play—which can confuse some Asian co-workers, who often keep both realms separate. Aussies are serious about the work they do, but are also committed to having fun at the same time.3
  2. U.K.: Many people consider the Brits to have the most astonishing sense of humour in the world. Certainly, British comedies, with their blend of slapstick, irony, and verbal wizardry, are adored worldwide. People in the U.K. love to use irony—using the meaning of a word to denote its exact opposite—which can be wrongly perceived as sarcasm (see USA, below).4

  3. USA: The humour is like the Americans themselves: straightforward and un-subtle. (While many Americans love British humour, some will mistake the famous British irony for sarcasm.) Americans will often use humour to put themselves down, which can seem strange to many Asians who come from a culture that emphasises keeping one’s dignity (“saving face”). USA humour is often aggressive, and Americans love to tell sexual jokes. (However, it is not advisable to tell off-colour jokes at a business meeting!)5

  4. People’s Republic of China: Chinese jokes can be very hard for a Westerner to fathom, in large part because of its intricate written characters: they can be read left to right, right to left, or even from top to bottom. Many jokes will play with this positioning, so this specific humour will elude even the most open-minded Westerner. The Chinese may find jokes about one’s personal life as being—well—too personal. Contemporary Chinese comedians may tell sarcastic jokes about Fu’erdai,or the ‘rich second generation’: spoiled children born of newly wealthy parents.6

If and when you find yourself in a new culture and country—listen. Learn. And soon you’ll be laughing with them, and they will be laughing with—and not at—you.

 

I am available for individual coaching:

www.eloquentenglish.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EloquentEnglish1955/?ref=bookmarks

 

 

 

1https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culture-conscious/201205/whats-funny
2https://www.toastmasters.org/Magazine/Articles/Being-Funny-Across-Cultures
3http://www.meldmagazine.com.au/2011/09/aussie-humour/ & http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-humour
4https://www.toastmasters.org/Magazine/Articles/Being-Funny-Across-Cultures
5http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-04/06/content_321053.htm
6http://gbtimes.com/life/getting-sense-chinese-humour & http://www.expatfocus.com/c/aid=2152/articles/china/learning-to-laugh-in-china-appreciating-the-chinese-sense-of-humour/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Be Prepared to be Amazed”: 10 Tips on Having a Great Conversation

Celeste Headlee, radio host in the USA, gave a great talk on Ted.com on how to have a better conversation:

http://www.ted.com/…/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_bett…

If you can have an open mind and be prepared to believe that every person has a fascinating story to tell, she states, you can make almost every interaction one full of meaning and significance. She gives 10 rules to have a great conversation; here they are, paraphrased.

Think about using these tips during job interviews; during chats with your colleagues; even when you’re having fun with your friends. You never know what you’ll discover about others—and about yourself.

1) Don’t multitask. Of course you shouldn’t be texting or using your phone while having this conversation. But even more than that—BE PRESENT. BE IN THE MOMENT. Don’t be thinking about anything else.

2) Don’t pontificate—don’t talk “at” that person. If you want to just express your opinion without worrying about reciprocity—write a blog. Enter every conversation with an assumption that you want to LEARN. Really open up your mind to the other person. I come into every conversation believing that “everybody is an expert in something,” she states, “and I’ve never been disappointed.”

3) Use open-ended questions: Who, what, where, when, why, how? Ask people questions that they really have to think about. Keep the questions simple so people will give interesting, extended answers.

4) “Go with the flow.” Let your thoughts come in and then go out of your mind. Keep being present.

5) If you don’t know, SAY that you don’t know. Err on the side of caution.

6) Don’t equate your experience with theirs. For example: If a person talks about some bad situation, don’t give them YOUR bad situation. All experiences are individual. This conversation isn’t necessarily about YOU. Conversations are not meant to be your opportunity for self-promotion.

7) Do not repeat yourself; it’s condescending.

8) Ignore extraneous details—don’t worry about little details such as dates, names of others, etc. People care about YOU—the big picture you’re telling.

9) THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT—ACTIVE LISTENING. It’s the most important skill you can have. She paraphrased Buddha: If your mouth is open, you’re not listening. When you’re talking, you feel like you’re in control . . . so you continue to speak. We talk 250 words per minute, but we can listen up to 500 words per minute, so our minds are filling in those extra 275 words. It takes ENERGY to PAY ATTENTION to someone. Most of us don’t listen to the intent to UNDERSTAND. We listen with the intent to REPLY.

10) Be interested in other people. Keep your mouth shut, your mind open, and always be prepared to be amazed.

 

Feel free to email me with comments or questions: arashap@eloquentenglish.com.

My website is www.eloquentenglish.com

 

You Need a Hero in Your Scientific Papers

 How can you have a hero in a scientific paper??   

You can. You should.superhero scientist

Much of this blog comes from a book called The Art of Scientific Storytelling by Dr Rafael Luna. If you are a student in the sciences and struggle with writing your papers, run, don’t walk, to buy this work. Luna—both a fiction AND science writer—said many of the things I had been intuiting, but just hadn’t nailed down.

Several years ago I was teaching academic writing to post-graduate (MA and Ph.D.) students, all second-language English speakers. I used a famous textbook that dutifully divided scientific papers into various sections (the usual: Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, etc.) and then examined the structure of each section. It was all right—bone dry, but all right.

Even when my students understood this information, their writing was often terrible. It wasn’t just their grammar (though they needed help in that regard), something was missing. Slowly, I discovered that what was missing was a sense of—story. A sense of telling their story to an audience of flesh-and-blood humans.

Granted, any scientific paper will be a complicated story for a specialized audience, with lots of complex vocabulary and information. However, as Luna (and others) have pointed out, most scientific stories share many commonalities with their “less-educated” cousins, the story. They still have action, a hero (yes, a hero), change, and a conclusion. Let’s break this down, comparing the scientific paper with a good presentation that tells a gripping story:

Presentations Scientific Papers
Take your audience on a journey to a new idea.  

Take your audience on a journey to a new idea.

 

Lead the audience on a hero’s quest: they will be faced with a problem. You will demonstrate how your idea can lead them to a brighter future.  

Make sure your main character (chemical reaction, a geographical feature, e.g.) demonstrates a clear problem to overcome (hypothesis), and how solving this problem will contribute to the scientific community.

·

Influence the audience to accept your point of view and take action by using both factual evidence and moving stories.  

Take your protagonist on a series of experiments that will reveal something new that can benefit the scientific community.

·

Tailor your story for the audience, using vivid language and imagery that will most move them.  

Tailor your story for your particular audience within the scientific community, using strong language that moves your paper forward.

 

 Once I was able to communicate this idea to my students, they slowly began to incorporate the idea of the ACTIVE STORY into their papers. Slooowly, their papers began to improve. That was great to see!

Note: An excellent way for a scientist to really be able to communicate his or her research to the general public is to be able to write and speak an elevator pitch. This can be such fun to do—but it is NOT easy. That will be next.

 

 

Small Talk is Not so Small for Business Success

What’s the big deal about small talk? After all, it is small—not important—talk, correct? Work gets done, project deadlines get met, and reports get written, all without small talk.

Well, yes and no. Certainly you can get that report written without it—but let’s say that you need some figures crunched, ASAP, and you need those numbers from a colleague. You really haven’t had much to do with this person, even though you’ve both had opportunity to do so: you’ve stood together at the lift, and you’ve bumped into her at the coffee machine. But, time is money, you think, so you’ve never really bothered. Besides, what do you say to a person you don’t know that well? “Nice weather we’re having?” PLEASE.

There is a good chance that this number-crunching individual would have been happy to get you those numbers quickly if you only had taken the time to get to know her just a bit better. Friends help out friends. (What kinds of friends? You might ask sceptically. Well, are all your “friends” on Facebook really your tried-and-true friends? Of course not. Yet those kinds of friends have been known to do amazing things for each other, when requested. Mutual back-scratching can go a long, long way.)

Good luck with your report.

What is small talk? Malinowski, a famous anthropologist, first wrote about it in 1923.1 Small talk, he said, is talk that binds us together. While the topics that constitute small talk may seem trivial, its real importance lies in its actual function: to forge bonds amongst us.

All work talk and no small talk can be detrimental to your career.

Many business pundits have written reams of digital paper on the benefits of small talk. Brett Nelson of Forbes lists six reasons why small talk is very important.2 The first reason he gives: you never know where small talk will take you. It only takes a little investment of your time (and the possibility of a bruised ego) to connect with someone. That connection might end up landing you a huge job. You never know.

It also makes you feel better, and makes you smarter. (Nelson cites serious research supporting these points.)

All this sounds great, but doesn’t small talk get in the way of worker productivity?

No. Social scientists from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, have been researching office communication worldwide. Their research has shown that small talk is crucial in forging fruitful ties with colleagues. Without those ties, work does not get done as effectively. 3 We humans are more than our work behaviours. We crave connection with others, and small talk can give us that connection—as trivial as it may seem.

Here’s an example: A friend of mine works for a small family business. Though her work is interesting, and she enjoys it, she is looking for another job. “They are from another country, and they always speak in their mother tongue,” she told me. “The only time they speak with me is when they give me instructions.”

This young woman is doing a wonderful job, and adding benefit to this company. How sad that her employers eventually will lose this person due to their lack of social skills.

Yet the sad fact is that many people just hate small talk. They would rather get their teeth pulled than listen to an interchange on Australian footie.

Next time—cultural observations on why some people find it difficult to small talk.

Citations:

1 Malinowski, B. “The problem of meaning in primitive languages,” in Ogden, C. & Richards, I., The Meaning of Meaning. London” Routledge, 1923.

2http://www.forbes.com/sites/brettnelson/2012/03/30/six-reasons-small-talk-is-very-important-and-how-to-get-better-at-it/#1fd187ab33c4

3http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/centres-and-institutes/language-in-the-workplace/docs/short-articles/ND-LWP-Small-talk-at-work.pdf