By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
Have you ever felt trapped in a conversation and become so preoccupied with planning your escape that you couldn't even hear what the other person was saying? Perhaps you didn't want to discuss a particular subject or you felt uncomfortable with someone's manner of speaking. Whatever the reason, you may want to explore what's pushing your buttons.
Self-aware merchant level salespeople (MLSs) have a strategic advantage over emotionally reactive MLSs. They're better prepared to engage with an array of colleagues and merchants. They avoid or underplay topics that are prone to ignite strong feelings. They also respect other people's opinions, even when they disagree. Etiquette varies across cultures, but courtesy and tolerance are common prerequisites for doing business anywhere in the world. The payment professionals I interviewed for this article offered basic guidelines for interpersonal communication. Here, in their words, are five rules of engagement.
Business conversations tend to be more formal than personal interactions, which are more casual. Many languages have formal and informal pronouns to distinguish between business and personal discussions – even English once used "thou" for informal and "you" for formal situations.
Melissa Christensen, Sales and Operations Manager at TransSwipe Merchant Services, believes posture, dress and speech can be important differentiators for MLSs.
"Being attentive and being a good listener always goes a long way in business communication," she said. "I would say the most important things about communicating with other people in regards to business are to be professional in how you are speaking and to come across with confidence that shows the level of expertise you have in your position."
Many of us are familiar with the 95/5 rule – the recommended ratio for listening (95 percent) and speaking (5 percent). Bryan Lee, Sales Manager at United Merchant Services, recommends diving in, asking questions and not worrying too much about how you look. If you're sincerely interested in the other person, that will come across; a few fumbles won't matter and may even help to humanize the situation.
When we focus too much on ourselves, we tend to forget what we are trying to convey, Lee said. "The desire to be outstanding, the thought to impress others will always hinder good communication," he added. "Always remember, that little bit of awkwardness reminds the opposite party that all of us are, after all, imperfect human beings capable of making mistakes. This will add the 'human factor' allowing them to comfortably accept what we are trying to offer."
Attitude is everything in sales. We need to believe in ourselves, our products and services, and the value that we bring to the merchant community. Having a positive attitude means appreciating the efforts of the people around you, too, even when results fall short of the mark.
Lee believes that positivity, a core value of professionalism, is reflected in myriad ways – from mannerisms to speech to vocabulary choices.
"It's important to remember that an eloquent person always communicates in a positive tone with positive thoughts," he said. "He or she neither speaks in a critical tone nor puts someone down. Lastly, we can further add grace and dignity to our speech by speaking clearly and slowly, and not adding any profanity or slang."
In her article, "Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on Social Media," Wired magazine writer Laura Hudson noted that anything we say on the Internet can have lasting consequences.
"There are millions of Twitter accounts with more than 1,000 followers and millions on Facebook with more than 500 friends," she wrote. "The owners of those accounts might think that they're just regular people, whispering to a small circle. But in fact they're talking through megaphones at a volume the entire world can hear. Increasingly, our failure to grasp our online power has become a liability – personally, professionally and morally. We need to think twice before we unleash it."
It's unfortunate that mass adoption of email, text and instant messaging has affected our ability to chat in person with each other. In a recent post in the MLS Forum, Clearent suggested that chatting face-to-face is more of a challenge for young adults who increasingly rely on electronic devices for expressing themselves.
"They were raised in an instant-on society," he wrote. "Long sales cycles may frustrate, and be a learning curve. The disadvantage is that many have poorer face-to-face communication skills."
It is ironic that overdependence on social media and other forms of electronic messaging can become both a barrier to communication and a time waster.
"With the ever increasing popularity of social media, the way we communicate with others is changing rapidly," Lee said. "As we spend more time exchanging text messages and tweeting, we lose valuable time [when we could be] speaking with someone face-to-face or over the phone.
"Verbal conflicts between two people often arise because they do not know how to communicate properly. As social animals, we always need to communicate with one another and reflect on ourselves based on such communications."
The next time that you don your company's polo shirt, consider that you are a standard bearer of your company's image and brand. As such, it's up to you to honor and personify the values of the organization. If your brand's core values are honesty and integrity, reflect those values in all of your communications, both online and offline.
"Internet speech can be cruder and crueler than our real-life interactions, in large part due to our literal distance from the people we're talking to and their reactions," Hudson wrote. "That detachment can sometimes be liberating, and it's often a good thing that people speak bluntly online, especially against injustice that they see around them. But a sense of proportion is crucial. These days, too many Internet shame campaigns dole out punishment that is too brutal for the crime."
She noted that online communication is a door that swings only one way: "You have the power to open it, but you don't have the power to close it. And sometimes what rushes through that door can engulf you, too."
The next time you feel trapped in a conversation, look for the cause of your discomfort and find ways to address and contain the situation. Being mindful of emotions while staying focused on the unfolding discussion will help you maintain a compassionate, professional tone.
In the end, it's not what you say or even how you say it that will separate you from agents with sub-par speaking skills. It's how you model your positive attitude, consistent performance and sincere interest in others that will make you an effective communicator.
Dale S. Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive specializing in business development and sales performance improvement. She manages channel sales at Castles Technology and sales effectiveness programs through IMPAX Corp. and C3ET Credit Card Consortia for Education & Training Inc. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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