Being, as we are, known for training business people in communication skills, we are often called aside at functions to give advice on communication problems.
I sometimes feel like a doctor at a party; “I get this pain after meals, Doc, just here – what do you think it could be?” However, most people are well meaning and often their problem is quick and simple to answer; and I just put it down to relationship building!
At one recent function, the business man sitting at the same table was obviously interested when I was introduced, and as I was sure it wasn’t my personal charms I decided he wanted my advice – and I was right.
After the formal activities were over he made a beeline for me, and gradually edged me out of the throng. Had I been somewhat younger I would have been intrigued by the manoeuvre and probably expecting a different outcome, however I am wiser now. When we were somewhat isolated he poured out his troubles.
He had recently become the financial officer of a rather well known company and as such it was his responsibility to deliver the financial report to the regular monthly meetings. He was spectacularly incompetent at it. The General Manager had told him that his report left the people more confused than they were at the start – and he suggested that he take steps to improve. The situation was ominous!
But my lunch companion did not know how to change – he had delivered the report the way he was taught and had no idea what was wrong or how he could change.
On the face of it, it didn’t seem such a problem really; I mean what could be the difficulty in presenting a load of facts or figures. He assured me that those at the meeting were well conversant with reading financial statements (and let’s face it, not every one is) – so where did the difficulty lie?
It was a challenge, and I mentally re-arranged my afternoon’s activities and focused my mind on this problem.
Subtle (and not so subtle) questioning revealed that it was not just the facts and the figures that had to be addressed. There were opinions on outcomes; suggestions for changes; decisions to be justified or explanations as to why certain ideas were unworkable.
It was soon obvious that while he knew the financial facts upside down and backwards, he had real difficulty in constructing a coherent communication which addressed all the other issues.
When I suggested that he should undertake one of our workshops, he demurred; he could not see the sense in it. After all, he said, he did not give presentations in his job, he just had difficulty with the financial reports.
Of course what he did not understand that was he was doing was presenting the financial report; it was there on the agenda for all to see “Presentation of the Financial Report”. It was not merely a matter of facts and figures, it was a communication problem; it was a presentation problem.
I explained to the hapless lad that he was just as much a presenter as any member of the sales team; that he too was required to understand the three aims of business communication, and to construct his report to achieve them.
The three aims of business communication? Surely you have not forgotten!!
First – To inform. To give the facts and the figure, to outline the details; to get the information into the hands of those that need it.
Second – To instruct. To explain what is needed to be done, to details the what, when, where and why.
Thirdly – To inspire. To create a mutually agreement on outcomes; to achieve a willingness to co-operate and to develop trust.
If you consider the communication that you engage in you will recognise that often your aim is all three at the same time; and that is quite usual and most of us will be able to address the situation quite competently.
Not so my lunch companion.
I had to point out that in giving considered opinions as to whether a certain course of action was financially viable, he was informing them of reasons, instructing them on outcomes and inspiring them to agreement.
Or when he had to answer questions about the impact of certain facts and figures, he was informing them of reasons, instructing them on outcomes and inspiring them to agreement.
And to cut the whole process much shorter than that afternoon took, what he was engaged in was a presentation of the financial situation of the company at that point in time, and to do that he needed to understand the whole communication process and to learn how to deliver his report to achieve the aims.
Eventually he agreed, and he came to the workshop. At the end of the day he once again manoeuvred me to one side! This time he was excited at the information he had gathered and finally realised that he was really engaged in the whole art of presentation; and this time he thought he knew what was expected.
I was amused; I had never seen anyone so excited at the prospect of presenting a financial report before.
About two weeks later he phoned me, and was almost incoherent with excitement. He had just delivered his first report using the techniques that we had taught him. The General Manager had taken him to one side (I knew that feeling) and complimented him on his improvement; and so he now had a sense of achievement as well as in improved sense of security.
Business Communication is quite simple to understand if we realise we all need to achieve at least one of the communication aims, and probably all three at the same time, regardless of the position we hold.
If you feel that is going to be hard for you why not manoeuvre either one of us aside at the next function we both attend – after all if we can create a work of art from a financial report I think we are now ready to take on the world.
Michele @ Trischel