Communication—the human connection—is the key to personal and career success.
– Paul J. Meyer, Founder, Success Motivation Institute
When I began in outside sales I was a bit shy, you could even describe me as socially awkward. I wasn’t the guy who’d be the center of attention at a party. I’d be the guy with my back up against the wall, waiting for someone to come over and talk to me. While being in a group was uncomfortable, being face to face with someone was even more painful.
By the time I left my first sales job at the car lot and made my way to Penn Life so I could sell $39 accident policies, I knew I needed to develop some game in this area. I began reading voraciously. Amongst the first books I read was Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book was a godsend for me, a foundational piece of my initial survival. It shaped the way I learned to communicate.
I fear that many younger people involved in sales today have challenges communicating professionally. I think there may be societally rooted causes for this. Many people under the age of 30 may have never known a life without a multitude of technology driven communication options. For example, when I completed my daily activities and production at Penn Life, I would pick up the phone and call my manager. The dozen or so salespeople on his team would contact him between 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM. We were asked to keep it short and give him the number of approaches we made followed by the number of full presentations given and then, finally, the number of units of sale we made.
Good, bad or ugly, we had to call in each evening and report our numbers. We had to have a brief two-way conversation about the day—articulate what went on, answer questions and accept constructive criticism. I assure you it was always easier to call my manager when I had a good day. It was usually a shorter call because I was anxious to celebrate with a cold beer. The conversations were more tedious and typically longer when the day didn’t go well.
If you think about it, in today’s world, that same type of interaction would probably occur digitally. We’d open our customer relationship manager app on our mobile device and punch in the numbers. Our manager may or may not see it that night because of the crush of digital information they have to process. It may take them a few days to aggregate the numbers, and then shoot over an email or text congratulating us, encouraging us or firing us. Regardless, what used to be a personal conversation with real humanoid input is now merely an impersonal digital string. Gone is the fine art of connection, the fine art of conversation.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
It is my belief that, as a society, we are losing opportunities to truly connect and communicate. That muscle is suffering atrophy. So, whether you are 60 years old or 22 years old, let’s pick up our heads, put down our mobile devices and tablets and start having conversations that are engaging, conversations that really matter. Let’s start re-building these critical muscles.
I am heavily suggesting you engage in practices that assist you in improving both your one-on-one interaction skills as well as your group communication proficiencies. Here are some thoughts and ideas to get you started on your journey to being a great communicator:
Read – Pick up books on the subject of communication. Begin with How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book is a timeless classic and can be found on our recommended reading list. Also search for blog posts or podcasts on this subject.
Attend – Join a networking group in your local area so that you can PRACTICE presenting what you do or sell. In a networking group you will be obliged to improve your interpersonal and group speaking skills, but it’s a SAFE PLACE to do so, because most of the people there won’t be direct targets of yours. It doesn’t matter all that much if you trip over a few words. If you are scared to death of this idea then you need to join Toastmasters and seriously hone your skills. This is also a very safe place to work on your communication skills.
Tryout – Start to alter the way your conversations with people go. Instead of talking about yourself, make the conversation about them. Script out 3 – 5 open-ended questions, (an open-ended question is a question that can’t be answered with a “yes”, or a “no”) and then develop a few follow up questions. Focus on learning as much as you can about them the first time you meet them. If you wind them up, you can sit back and let them talk about themselves for a while. When you’re done they will think you are the smartest and coolest person in the room, and they will love you.
“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.”
– Jim Rohn
Make a conscious effort to become a skilled communicator. It may be an extremely marketable skill in the future based on the digital habits of our younger generations.
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