The art of conversation is an essential skill for any business owner. How do you speak your mind, be assertive and communicate your standards clearly without being rude or aggressive? Especially for women business owners. When is it time to speak and when it is best to listen? When speaking, how can you get your ideas, instruction and essential information communicated well so it’s easy to understand and accepted as valued direction?
Communication skills are incredibly valuable to any business owner, from the first contact with your lead throughout your relationship with your client, as it has the following residual effects:
- How you communicate will increase comfort level to encourage that lead to convert to a customer, because communication is critical to any working relationship.
- If you speak with authority, with confidence, with expertise you will build that trust and credibility that you can do the job.
- When you speak with humility, you also show that you are willing to listen to their ideas, creative input and be open to learning from them and about them.
- When you know the importance of listening before you speak, the client will know they will be heard throughout the working relationship.
- When you define your boundaries, your process, your terms and policies clearly and soundly, it draws the line in the sand early so you don’t have to continually remind them and it prevents attempts at compromising or crossing those lines later.
- With clear communication of your policies and process of project development, you prevent misunderstandings, conflicts or dissatisfied clients.
When should you speak up?
Speak when you have something to say, when you need to clarify a misunderstanding, to offer information that you clients need to know, as well as to set boundaries you are not willing to cross. Speaking up clearly and with confidence will prevent issues and misunderstanding later on. Don’t assume they know or think it doesn’t need to be said.
The objective of any business owner’s meeting of the minds is
- to convert a lead to a customer,
- to interview contractors or employees to find compatibility on your team,
- to increase customer loyalty and repeat business, or
- to build on trust and credibility of your brand in your community.
All of the above require good communication with positivity, fluency and pace, confidence and respect for the listener, experience and knowledge, and well-researched facts to back up what you are saying. So speaking up takes preparation, practice and a positive attitude. A good conversation have moments of humor and personal interest, but without taking away from the professionalism of what is being said. Speak up when you are in the frame of mind to build bridges and fully prepared to answer their questions.
How do you speak your mind clearly without being perceived as aggressive?
When you have to speak your mind, do so with a big smile on your face. A smile can soften the message, exude confidence and show that you mean what you say and what you say important to the listener. When express with good intention the words will more likely build bridges, instead of burn them, as well as build trust and credibility in you. When you smile, you put those listening at ease, calms you and the listener and clearly conveys what you are saying is definitive without being rude or aggressive. It’s easier to smile when your words are only going to provide valued information that your client needs to know.
What should you do if they don’t want to hear what you have to say?
It becomes more difficult to speak your mind when your opinion or the facts is not what the majority want to hear. Listen to their views first, ask questions and make sure you understand their point of view before you endeavor to correct them or give your opposing opinion. Before you state your case, acknowledge you fully understand theirs by reiterating what they just said in your own words, that way they’re more apt to listen to yours. When you express yourself, show facts, statistics and case studies to back up your views and state your reasons clearly, confidently and without emotion. Stay calm and do so with a motivation to build bridges and develop trusted relationships. Avoid arguing, venting and never lose control. Keep emotions out of the discussion, as this is purely business. If the listener shows they are not in the mood to listen, walk away before it gets to the point of a heated exchange. Possibly try another time or put it in writing instead to give them time to process your message. Good communication with clients will keep them coming back again and again.
Why is listening especially vital before you speak?
The art of conversation is just as much about listening than it is talking. Listen to them with acknowledgement they are being heard, either through facial expressions, nodding of your head, good eye contact and mirroring what they said after they finish speaking. Mirroring is repeating what they told you in your own words to show them you understood and that they are being heard. Make good eye contact with a smile, which will communicate that you’re interested in the other person, that you respect their opinions and that you’re willing to listen to them with a positivity. If they are struggling to share, ask insightful questions to draw them out, such as:
- Why do you feel that way?
- What are the factors that affect your opinion?
- Have you always felt that way and what lessons have you learned along the way?
- What are pros and cons of doing things that way?
- What are your priorities when making that decision?
When you attempt to understand where they are coming from, what factors are affecting their decisions, what their priorities are and what fuels their decisions, then you are in a much more advantageous position to respond in a way they’ll listen and be motivated to use your suggestions, to become a client, to move forward with their project and to trust your advice going forward.
Why is setting boundaries early in the relationship a stepping-stone to future success?
Setting business boundaries is one of the hardest things for business owners to do. People don’t maliciously aim to take advantage but if boundaries are clearly set, you avoid issues later.
Don’t just verbally express the key points, PUT IT IN WRITING and have both parties sign the contract before entering into a business relationship. A clearly defined contract legally sets boundaries in writing but during initial meetings, also clearly communicate:
- pricing and estimates;
- response times and office hours;
- additional requests post-approved estimate;
- payment schedule and due dates; and
- any exceptions to delivering your product or service.
Make sure they understand, each of the points in the contract and that you fully answer their questions completely. It is vital for a small business owner to have a contract that is vetted by a lawyer or legal representative and a Human Resources professional (depending on the nature of the contract). Contracts evolve and are amended when issues arise, policies change to meet the changing world we live in, as well as new technology and new laws enacted, so have your contract reviewed at least once a year and then again reviewed by your lawyer. A good contract is a small business owners’ best protection against client conflicts and potential litigation down the road. If they signed your contract, they agreed to your policies, the end. It’s imperative as well they sign your proposal or estimate as well, as they are also agreeing to the monetary side of their responsibility.
With boundaries set verbally and in writing, there is little possibility of misunderstandings and frustration as the project progresses. You both win and you will win the client’s respect.
In conclusion, professional and clear communication is the key to any business owner’s success. Be honest, be clear, stay calm, be open to listen, ask questions to understand their point of view, set boundaries early and in writing, and earn their respect.