Basic Communications Skills

Sep 1st, 2013 | By | Category: communication skills

How effective are your communication skills?
Most of are socially adequate when it comes to conversation and daily interactions, like talking with friends and ordering at the coffee shop. When it comes more important communications we often find ourselves misunderstood. Even when there was an acknowledged agreement we find things don’t always work out the way we envisioned.

Have you ever bought a car? I find those to be some of the most tactic filled demonstrations of misunderstandings, and non-committed agreements. In the end it is the paper you sign that binds the contract, all the negotiated factors including the price may not be as you thought you agreed, but there it is salesman pen in hand asking you to commit to something far from your understanding of the agreement. This is the point where the real negotiations begin, and they can be both brutal (high pressure) and psychological (mind games). To keep the workplace emotions out of things for the time being let’s use buying a car as example of testing your communications skills.

The first thing to realize in a car is there are millions of cars to choose from. While you may like a particular brand or model, there are usually a large number for sale that meet your criteria. If you do not have a particular brand and model in mind your have more options to buy a car that meets your criteria. What if you don’t have anything more in mind than you want a car? This often termed window-shopping where you look at what is available to give you an idea of what is available. This can be good or bad. If you are really just looking then it is a good practice to gather information. If you are going to buy, it is dangerous because you do not have the facts you need to negotiate effectively. Basic information, such as, the median selling price. The median price is the middle price buyer have paid for a particular brand and model. Half the buyers paid more than the median price and half had paid less. In most cases the prices listed in the car window have no real reflection of the actual selling price. To pay the sticker price is paying too much. To those with a lot money a few thousand dollars may not be a big deal, but that is not the point of the exercise. Our goal is to get the car we want, equipped the way we want it, at the lowest price – out the door. Out the door is important, as many dealers will quote a price which does not include some of the expenses like tax, title, and registrations. These cost could add a considerable amount to the bottom line. The point so far is do some homework before you negotiate. (If you are negotiating a raise at work, are you prepare to answer how much is reasonable?)

Knowledge is power when it comes to communication and negotiations.

The way you enter the dealership is important. If you walk in with a deer in the headlights look, you will be sized up and treated accordingly. There are tactics in which assuming a less than equal position in the negotiations is desirable, but usually they are looking for sympathy. One trait a car salesman does not employ is sympathy. On the other hand trying to assume a more powerful position, walking in like own the place, also set the stage for aggression as the salesman fights to gain control. The posture you present leading up to and beginning communications sets the tone. There are several strategies and tactics regarding posturing, and setting the tone, in negotiations it my belief that equal footing is the best starting point. You can always become more or less aggressive, agreeable, etc. as the situation develops. It is usually a good starting point to present a confident and somewhat cordial demeanor.

Your appearance and demeanor usually set the beginning tone of communications.

Most often the salesman will approach you. There are some tell tale signs in the time that wait, their posture and demeanor, and where they approach you. Most let you look around, and then approach when you are paying attention to a particular car. This is a tactic to narrow the focus on a what type of car interests you. If you are looking at sedans, it is a good bet you are not there to buy a sports car. In addition, color and style also are judged by your interest. This gives the salesman some more information. He now has made a judgment on you and your interest. You have not gathered any information on the salesman. You should be alert to see how he approaches you and introduces himself. Most car salesmen present an aggressive or helpful posture when approaching a client. First impressions are important, and the salesman’s goal is to appear knowledgeable and helpful. If you pay attention you will observe their posture changing as they gain more information about you. The information you give the salesman is important in establishing rapport and tone of the communication.

Gathering information about those you are communicating with is important to establishing rapport and tone of communications.

The way the salesman opens the conversation gives the first clues of the communication style to be used. Most salesmen have practiced approaches, like acting, depending on how they size up a client. All of the approaches are aimed at gathering more information. Being aware that almost everything the salesman asks is targeted to gaining information on you, your finances, and what type a car you are looking for. For example, if the salesman asks what kind of work you do, he is gathering information both on you, and your financial status. My friend is an attorney. When he went to by a car, he always dressed in everyday close, and would say be worked for the government. His strategy was to give the impression of much lower income. His experience when he dressed in more upscale clothes and said he was an attorney salesman would steer him to higher priced cars, and were less likely to reduce the price. Salesman also ask seemly innocuous questions to judge your knowledge of cars, car values, and finances. For example, car salesman often ask me what I would pay for a car. My wife and I were looking for a new van. We decided to look at Ford, Dodge, and GM models. While at the Dodge dealer we test drove a top of the line, all options, Dodge van with the seat configuration we liked. The salesman kept asking what I would be willing to pay for the van. My response was what was his bottom price. We badgered back and forth for a while until my wife who was driving, said she thought is was worth x amount, which was about half the sticker price. The salesman actually winced when at my wife’s offered, and said in a very subdued voice “We could never sell it for that.” No counter offer, no laugh it off comment, or any attempt to refocus the negotiations. Needless to say that negotiation was over, and no we did not buy a Dodge. The salesman was not interested in trying to restart the negotiations, probably because we had slipped outside the financial window, or he felt we were not serious.

It is important what you say, and how you say it.

The final negotiations and signing the contract are the final culmination of the communication. During the final negotiations the salesman uses all the information gathered from you is used to get you to sign the contract. If the price you are willing to pay is too low, or is not within their target price limits, they will either try to get to increase your offer or not sell you the car. Usually they take a lot time to supposedly talk with their manager to get you the best price. This is a tactic to first put you in a secondary sit and wait posture, something like a time out. It also places the salesman in a middleman position where he can be on your side when dealing with the manager. This where your communication skills are put to the real test. Not only do you have to keep your wits about you and not be distracted, but you must now negotiate with someone you have not met, nor communicate directly. One tactic is to ask the manager to come to talk with you. Usually he is too busy helping other customers. If you can directly talk with the decision maker there is better chance of making a better deal. There is not artificial waiting or other manipulative tactics. They are equal footing of on the spot decision making.

Keep control of the communication arena. If the salesman can’t negotiate ask to talk with someone who can. Talk to the person who makes the decisions. The salesman may agree with every point you raise, but what’s the difference he is not the one who can give you be lower price. Always aim to communicate with the decision maker. (If your boss cannot make the decision to promote you, target the person who can,)

Once you complete the deal, forget about it. What is done is done. One of the biggest obstacles to developing communication skills is criticism from ourselves or others. While is imperative to review your communications style and techniques in order to develop better communication skills, criticism are destructive. There is an old saying that if they accepted your offer you paid too much. The idea being that they must of made too much of a profit. There is no way of knowing the bottom price. Often it is a tactic to say the price is below what you can accept to give the impression that anything slightly above that price is the bottom price. Most likely it isn’t. My best deal I think was buying a car on the Internet. I asked for bids on a car which had no options. The only choice was color. I received several offers, and one was substantially below the others. My tactic was to ask for offers using several different zip codes. The lowest offer came from a zip code about 60 miles away. After calling and verifying the offer, I decided to try to negotiate a better price locally. After visiting several local dealers, none would match my Internet offer, even after I told them I had the offer. I truly believe I got close to a bottom line price.

Don’t criticize your communication interactions analyze and learn from them

The communications basics in this post are: Do your homework and gain knowledge of your communication topics and goals; your appearance and demeanor is important in determining your status in the communications; gather information while communicating; what you say is important, and so is how you say it; talk with decision makers, not middle-men when possible; don’t criticize your communication interactions analyze and learn from them.

The PracticaL Mentor.

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